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Coronavirus Unemployment: Is The EDD Putting People At Risk Of Identity Theft?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Following reports of wide-spread mail fraud, there are renewed concerns that the Employment Development Department is putting millions at risk of identity theft by mailing full Social Security numbers (SSN) on unemployment documents, in violation of state law.

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CBS13 Investigates EDD Identity Theft Concerns

Most people know that if a crook gets access to your SSN, they can steal your identity and ruin your credit. However, as some are learning the hard way, they can also steal your unemployment money and even change your address with the EDD.

ALSO SEE: CBS13 Investigates: Coronavirus Unemployment

Missing Mail, Missing Benefits

David Robertson was shocked to learn that the EDD was printing his son's full Social Security number on unemployment documents. "It's outrageous," Robertson said.

His 19-year-old son was approved for benefits, but he says someone drained his account before he ever received his EDD debit card. He says when they called the EDD, a call center rep told them  someone had changed his address so future mailings were being sent somewhere else.

It turns out, all a mail thief would have needed to activate his card, steal his benefits and possibly even  change his address, was his son's Social Security number.

It's still not clear if that's what happened to Robertson's son, they have not heard back from the EDD, but the agency does print full Social Security numbers on certain documents, which Robertson says his son never received.

"So my son's been ripped off. His future credit is in jeopardy, he's only 19 years old, there are crooks who are profiting and the taxpayers of California being ripped off," he said.

ALSO SEE: CBS13 Investigates: EDD Identity Theft Concerns

When Neal O'Farrell of the Identity Theft Council first heard that people across the state were getting dozens of EDD letters in their mailbox with other people's names, he assumed it was organized fraud.

Then, we told him the EDD is still printing full Social Security numbers on some of those documents.

"After all these years, after everything we've learned, I was really gobsmacked," O'Farrell said. "It's almost criminal negligence. Have they not heard about identity theft in the last decade?"

He now believes there are likely two types of fraud.

Organized V. Opportunistic EDD Fraud

As the EDD explained in a recent press release:  "(P)erpetrators are often using stolen identity information from national and global data breaches,"  to apply for benefits in other people's names. According to EDD, "scammers will often try to intercept, redirect, or gather mail associated with these claims."

The press release was issued after people across the state started receiving dozens of EDD documents, listing their address and strangers' names.

According to the EDD, it appears identity thieves are stealing people's identities through unrelated data breaches, then applying for unemployment in their names.

Initially, it appeared many of the fake addresses used were homes that were listed for sale, leading investigators to believe the crooks may be hoping to pick up EDD documents there, including debit cards, before anyone noticed.

But CBS13 has recently heard from several people in Northern California whose homes are not listed for sale. They are getting strangers' overpayment notices and other EDD letters that would be sent out after someone's been paid.

"The first type of fraud is organized," O'Farrell said. "The other is opportunistic."

O'Farrell believes mail theft is to blame for opportunistic fraud, which he says EDD has made easier by mailing Social Security numbers. There could be enough information in one batch of mail to steal someone's benefits, their identity, and even change their address with EDD for future mailings so they don't immediately realize they have been compromised.

"Every identity thief in California, I can guarantee you, knows as this is going on," he said. "[The] EDD has just made mail theft sexy again. It's made it profitable again."

O'Farrell says it's important that the public knows what the crooks already know so that they are aware of the risk and can better protect themselves.

CBS13 has heard from several people, like Robertson's son, who applied for unemployment but say their EDD debit cards were stolen and activated. In some cases, their mail was later redirected to a new address, so the victim didn't realize they'd been compromised right away.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: "California Un-Confidential"
CBS13 Investigates: EDD Identity Theft Concerns

Mail Theft 

Mail theft records, obtained by CBS13, reveal thousands of mail thefts in California during just the first few months of the pandemic. The thefts include nearly 2,800 cluster box incidents where multiple people were compromised just as the EDD was mailing millions of documents with full Social Security numbers to people applying for first-time benefits.

"People will wonder, well, how did the thieves get my Social Security number? And it may well be EDD," O'Farrell said.

EDD declined to comment on the fraud beyond the press release, but it is illegal to mail Social Security numbers in California.

"EDD is victimizing everyone. They're victimizing the taxpayers and victimizing the states. They're victimizing people who didn't apply for anything," O'Farrell said.

Following a state audit, prompted by a five-year CBS13 investigation, the EDD is supposed to "discontinue its use of full SSNs" by December 2021.

But that's not soon enough for millions, like Robertson's son, who now has to go through the lengthy process of identity theft protection.

"His Social Security number is at risk, and not only at risk for EDD payments," he said, "but now he's at future risk for people using it however they want it."

ALSO SEE: CBS13 Investigates: Coronavirus Unemployment

How To Protect Yourself From EDD-Related Fraud

1. Informed Delivery: If you've filed for unemployment, it's a good idea to sign up for USPS Informed Delivery. The service scans and emails a copy of each envelope that leaves the post office, so you can track if EDD sent a letter that never arrived.

Though O'Farrel warns, the service is not foolproof so EDD claimants should be hyper-aware. With so much personal information being mailed in identifiable envelopes, its possible to be compromised before the letters even arrive at the post office.

2. Credit Freeze / Security Freeze: Considering the increased risk of identity theft, these days everyone should consider a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze. You must freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus, you can find more information here from the Federal Trade Commission.

A Credit Freeze can help protect you from financial ID theft by preventing crooks from taking out credit or loans in your name, but it won't prevent EDD, Social Security or tax fraud.

3. Check Your Free Annual Credit Report: To check to see if you've already been compromised, you can check your free credit report at There are many sites claiming to provide free credit reports, but is the only one that is truly free and authorized by the federal government.

Everyone should check their credit report at least once a year to ensure there are no red flags like loans or credit cards you didn't apply for. You get one free report from each bureau annually.

(Pro Tip: You can separate the three bureaus and check your report with one bureau every four months, allowing you to check your report for free throughout the year.) However, again, this generally won't identity EDD, Social Security or tax fraud.

Follow Our Continuing Coverage at:
CBS13 Investigates: EDD Identity Theft Concerns

NOTE: CBS13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts was based at the CBS San Francisco station (KPIX) when this investigation began and has continued the work after moving to CBS Sacramento. The stories have aired on CBS stations across California.

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