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The number of identity theft reports filed with US consumer protection authorities doubled over the past year thanks to the impact of the pandemic.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said in an update yesterday that it received 1.4 million such reports last year, twice the number filed in 2019.

The surge in cases coincided with the country’s slip into recession and soaring unemployment rate as COVID-19 took hold early last year, the FTC claimed.

“After the government expanded unemployment benefits to people left jobless by the pandemic, cyber-criminals filed unemployment claims using other people’s personal information,” it continued.

“In 2020, we had 394,280 reports about government benefits fraud — overwhelmingly about identity theft involving unemployment benefits. Compare that with 12,900 reports in 2019.”

The FTC said it also received many reports from individuals whose personal and business information had been used fraudulently by scammers to receive money from the government’s small business loan programs.

“Last year, we had 99,650 reports of fraud involving business or personal loans, compared with 43,920 reports in 2019,” it added. “Not all of the new reports related to the government relief effort, but they were a big share of the increase.”

In fact, the fallout from this widespread fraud is still ongoing. In January alone, the Department of Justice released details of separate charges against several individuals who it said illegally obtained funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.

However, not all of these used the details of legitimate businesses and individuals in their schemes. Many of those accused are said to have simply made-up information when filing, such as inflating the number of workers their businesses employ.

The FTC also revealed that “tax identity theft” cases swelled significantly last year, up from just 27,000 in 2019 to over 89,000. These are essentially the same attempts to steal individuals’ federal stimulus payments, but simply reported to the IRS rather than FTC.