An epidemic of fraud has attached itself to efforts to help those thrown out of work by the COVID pandemic, and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has some helpful tips to keep workers safe as they navigate the unemployment landscape.

“There have been a number of fraudulent unemployment applications made here in Montana,” said Fox. “The Department of revenue suggests that there are upwards of $10 million in unemployment benefits that have been fraudulently obtained.”

Fox offered some helpful suggestions to keep from having someone’s credit or bank accounts hacked or stolen.

“They can freeze their own credit accounts,” he said. “So that others can’t apply for credit or even apply for unemployment fraudulently. They can get a hold of one of the credit reporting agencies, Transunion,  Equifax or Experion and ask for a credit freeze which can be temporary and those organizations can provide Montanans with information on how than can unfreeze their credit report.”

Fox said to be vigilant about the money that is actually in your bank accounts.

“Monitor your bank accounts,” he said. “Money that shows up in your account that you weren’t expecting might be a sign that somebody has applied for unemployment and its coming into your account. More often than not, it’s a dummy account and it will come to you, but don’t fall for any requests from these fraud artists posing as a state agency suggesting that you need to give that money back.”

According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry the agency has stopped more than $220 million in fraudulent payments since the end of April.