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The Montana Department of Labor and Industry announced last week that it had been made aware of two additional scams targeting Montanans on unemployment, this time with texts and calls from a scammer posing as the department and attempting to extort information.

According to the news release and an email sent to unemployment claimants, one scam comes in the form of a text that appears to be from the department. That text asks recipients to click on a link to review an “error” in an unemployment claim. The scam could be sent to anybody with a (406) area code, though it is attempting to target those who have filed for any form of unemployment recently or have filed a continued claim.

The DLI will only send texts to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance recipients who have chosen to receive texts about their claim status. Those texts will direct PUA claimants to the PUA website, mtpua.mt.gov.

Lauren Lewis, a DLI spokesperson, said that the department has been made aware of the text scams and the similar phone scam attempting to extort information from claimants. There are a few different ways that people can protect themselves from falling victim to this kind of phishing scam, Lewis said, the first and most major of which is to not give any information to someone over the phone or text until they verify the person is actually with the unemployment division.

“The kinds of red flags I would recommend people are aware of are, over the phone, (an) automated voice recording message that states that there’s a problem with their claim, enacts them to take action, asks them to press 1 to speak to someone, these are clear indications that this is not UI,” Lewis said.

If a DLI employee needs information on a claim from a claimant, Lewis said, they will reach out by phone. But it will never be an automated recording — there will always be a real person on the other end.

Claimants can also ask to call the employee back at their direct line to ensure that the person is who they say they are.

“If they do receive a phone call from someone that identifies themselves as with our claim center, ask if they can potentially call them at their direct line to ensure that it is a valid call,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that any links sent from the department, which mainly contacts claimants by email and phone, will direct recipients to an address that ends in “.gov,” like the regular unemployment website, montanaworks.gov.

The DLI advised anyone who received the text message not to click on the link, respond to the text or call the number it came from. In an email sent to unemployment claimants, the department also advised blocking the number and deleting the text so the link isn’t accidentally opened later.

This isn’t the first time scammers have targeted Montanans in attempts to get information by posing as the DLI, and Montana is far from the only place where scammers are targeting those who have applied for assistance.

All 50 states have run into issues with foreign and domestic scammers committing unemployment fraud by applying for unemployment payments in others’ names and raking in money from those fraudulent claims, as well as phishing attacks, or attempts to extort information from someone by posing as a department employee or the department itself.

Scams or suspected unemployment fraud can be reported to the DLI by going to uid.dli.mt.gov/report-fraud or by calling the unemployment fraud hotline, (406) 444-0072. Lewis said the department also recommends reporting this kind of fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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