City staff become latest victims of unemployment fraud
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Following a nationwide trend, many Steamboat Springs city employees are among those who have become the targets of unemployment scams.
Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen said scammers, who usually live outside of the U.S., obtain a person’s name and Social Security number, file an unemployment claim under their name but use a separate bank account difficult for law enforcement to trace but accessible to the scammer.
“It’s become a huge problem since the start of the pandemic,” Christensen said, adding the department receives dozens of calls each day from Steamboat residents saying they’ve received calls from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment about claims they did not file.
Christensen said city employees have become the latest target, with 12 reported calls Tuesday alone.
“It’s a really unfortunate situation,” said Wendy Kuhlman, human resources and risk manager for the city. “I have no idea why it’s happening.”
Kuhlman said she has heard from other Colorado municipalities that have seen an uptick in their employees being targeted in the past month.
“It’s so bizarre,” she added.
Every unemployment claim filed by a current or former Steamboat employee is sent to the city human resources department for verification, and Kuhlman said she grew suspicious when she began receiving calls about current employees, even after those who had their previous hours cut returned to full-time work.
When the city receives a call about an unemployment claim from a current employee, they contact the employee to alert them they’ve been a victim of fraud and then encourage them to file a police report and contact the state.
Christensen said while the department has seen a large number of fraudulent unemployment calls since COVID-19 began, the number of calls increased when the federal government first passed a round of stimulus checks last spring and again when another stimulus package was passed last week.
“They were trickling in here and there, but someone over the holidays really turned on the faucet,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s related to the work the federal government did on stimulus checks, but it’s a thought.”
Christensen received a call about an unemployment report created under his name Wednesday, which he said was “a bit jarring,” due to his status in law enforcement.
After the city alerted him of the call, Christensen submitted a fraud report online with the state and contacted the three credit bureaus to ask for a fraud alert on his credit status, meaning if he applies for a loan or credit card, the bank will take extra security measures to ensure request is legitimate.
“It took me just a few minutes,” he said, adding he encourages any victims of fraudulent unemployment claims to do the same.
While most scammers live outside of the U.S., leaving law enforcement with few options, Christensen said having a case number and an official police report on file is important.
In addition to fraudulent unemployment calls, many city staff members have received emails that appear to be from colleagues asking for passwords or inviting them to click a link downloading a virus onto their computer, said Kim Weber, Steamboat finance director.
“We have been the target of many email hacks,” Weber said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021