CLEVELAND — Federal prosecutors are investigating a massive data breach containing the personal information of millions of Americans and now being used to obtain fraudulent unemployment benefits in at least a dozen states across the country—including Ohio.
And it turns out, a bank debit card may be the first clue that everything from your social security number to birthdate may be being used in a fraudulent scheme to defraud Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that is supposed to help those who have lost jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
How do I know?
I recently received one of those bank debit cards promising me easy access to my unemployment compensation—even though I never applied and have never been unemployed.
I was mailed a U.S. Bank "ReliaCard" informing me that I could "activate" my debit card and access my cash through Pennsylvania's unemployment program—even though I do not live in the state.
In another case, a Colorado resident received multiple "ReliaCards" at his home address.
Our investigation even found a cybersecurity expert who received one.
Angel Kern said her background in cybersecurity has provided some clues into who is behind it.
"We're pretty sure they are foreign entities that are coming in to scam and take advantage of a very hard situation," said Kern. "So many people are in need of those dollars."
U.S. Bank is partnering with states around the country to provide debit card services for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but neither the bank nor state benefit agencies are responsible for the databreach.
In a statement, U.S Bank said it "only issues ReliaCards as directed by state unemployment agencies" adding "anyone who receives a ReliaCard related to unemployment benefits they did not apply for should destroy the card, notify the state unemployment agency of potential fraud and take precautions to mitigate risks of potential identity theft."
Meanwhile, federal Prosecutors and U.S. Bank analysts have identified at least 16 million dollars in fraudulent benefits associated with the "ReliaCard" and Pennsylvania benefits.
Ohio's Director of Jobs & Family Services confirms it's happening here as well.
"We've been contacted by individuals who received either a U.S. Bank "ReliaCard" or correspondence from our office because "someone" has applied for benefits in their name," said ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall.
Ohio is asking anyone who has received one to call its fraud hotline at 800-686-1555 as well as contact credit reporting agencies to request a freeze and fraud alert on your credit.