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Officials: Reports of unemployment fraud on rise in area

NATCHEZ — Natchez law enforcement officials advise citizens to safeguard their personal information more carefully as reports of unemployment fraud are on the rise.

As unemployment claims have increased statewide due to job loss during the COVID-19 crises, so have cases of fraud, Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said.

Three to four different reports of unemployment fraud were filed in Natchez in the past two weeks, Armstrong said, adding local law enforcement agencies are reporting all incidents to the state and federal levels to help resolve the issue.

“We ask everyone to be extremely careful,” Armstrong said. “We can slow this down this criminal activity by being careful and reporting it when it happens. … We’re going to be submitting our information to the Attorney General’s office and speaking to representatives at the U.S. Attorney’s office as well. This is something that other law enforcement agencies are currently working on because it is widespread.”

Armstrong said the most common means that someone might use to obtain personal information is over the phone.

For example, a person might receive a call from someone claiming to be with the unemployment office requesting additional information such as a Social Security number, Armstrong said.

“Because of phone spoofing and modern technology, the call may show that it is coming from a local business and lead you to believe it is authentic. When in doubt, it’s better to hang up and initiate the call yourself using a phone directory or through the proper channels.”

Armstrong said both employers and victims of fraud should report all incidents as they occur.

Some of the incidents were reported by employers who received notice that their working employees had filed for unemployment where the employee had no knowledge of anyone ever using their information to file for unemployment, Armstrong said.

When this happens, Armstrong said the employer should notify local law enforcement and their employee immediately.

Civilians may also protect themselves by checking their credit scores frequently and destroying any receipts or documents containing personal information before discarding it, Armstrong said.

“You cannot overprotect your identity because there are so many ways they can go after it,” Armstrong said. “When we all do our part in trying to prevent this from happening we can slow it down. … When in doubt, report. If nothing else, there will at least be a record of it to protect you from being accused and a better chance for law enforcement to catch the person responsible.”