Courtesy photo of the South Portland Police Department

Residents are encouraged to stay vigilant as rise in fraudulent unemployment benefit claims has been affecting Mainers, including many residents of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

United States Attorney Halsey B. Frank Maine, Attorney General Aaron Frey, and Maine Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman warned the public on May 26 that scammers were stealing personal information and filing for unemployment in order to collect benefits.

In Cape Elizabeth alone, there have been at least 50 complaints filed in the past week, said Paul Fenton, chief of the Cape Elizabeth Police Department.

The issue has been an unnecessary strain on people who are dealing with an already stressful climate, he said.

“There are a lot of people applying for benefits,” he said. “People saw an overwhelmed system, and there are a lot of criminals, a segment of society that’s always taking advantage. They saw the opportunity and it’s been unprecedented with the amount of unemployment claims. For the time there were some vulnerabilities in the system.”

Cape Elizabeth residents are encouraged to file a police report if they believe their information has been stolen, Fenton said. The department can also help residents find the right resources to rectify the situation.

The South Portland Police Department also warned residents about the issue on Facebook, saying that residents could visit www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft and/or file a complaint with local police at www.southportland.org/departments/police-department.

According to a release from the Department of Justice, many victims do not know that their identity has been stolen until they go to file an application for unemployment benefits.

In order to stay on top of scammers, Fenton recommended that people check their credit scores often, be careful about the kinds of information they post online, and check through suspicious-looking mail, even if it looks like junk mail, as it could contain signs of identity theft.

“Remember that your identity can be taken and the more that’s out there, the easier it is to take,” he said.

Cape Elizabeth residents can call 767-3323 to receive an identity packet, Fenton said.

The Maine Department of Labor is also looking into the thefts, said Commissioner Laura Fortman.

“The Maine Department of Labor takes its responsibility to uphold the integrity of the unemployment program very seriously,” she said. “MDOL will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to investigate and prevent fraud, while paying benefits to eligible Maine workers as quickly as possible.”

The Federal Trade Commission has a resource citizens can use at identitytheft.gov, Fenton said.

“This is an issue that’s ongoing and like anything, when there’s a lot of bad things going on, you have to derive some type of benefit or learning of it,” he said. “You should be cognizant of what you put online. We’re trusting of what we put online now, but we really have to be careful, especially in terms of providing social security numbers.”

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