Unemployed Californians scammed by sites

SACRAMENTO It's a sign of the times in California: An unemployment rate approaching 8 percent means long lines at state-sponsored job fairs ... more competition for each position, and pressure to make ends meet.

These trying times are also an opportunity for scammers.

Sandy Weiss has never been out of work until this past summer. The former dental-office worker went online for benefits she may be entitled to.

"I clicked on filing for unemployment," said Weiss. Then she clicked on "Live Help." "That's where my scam began," she said.

Her online "helper" asked for a credit-card number to help file for unemployment.

"I'm unemployed. I can't afford to pay to file for unemployment," said Weiss.

Sandy reported the Web site to her local Employment Development Department, where she learned she's not alone.

"It's bad enough the economy is having its own struggles, but to turn around and get somebody at their lowest point," said Weiss.

"We've heard them charging as much as $20 to help someone fill out an application, and then another three dollars as part of every check they collect. You do not have to pay for this service," said Loree Levy, Calif. Employment Development Department. "EDD is the official administrator of the unemployment insurance program in California. And we do not charge for this service. That's the last thing people need when they're unemployed."

Some of these Web sites are also claiming they have a way to process unemployment benefits faster. The state says that's simply not true.

Luckily, for Sandy she stopped short of giving any of those Web sites her credit card.

"Holy Cow! What if I gave them my credit card? What would they do with it? How far would they go with it?" asked Weiss.

But there are 1.4 million Californians looking for work, many for the first time. That inexperience makes them prime targets for scammers.


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