The number of fraudulent unemployment claims is staggering across Illinois. Scammers did not take a break during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers preyed on Illinois residents by stealing personal data and submitting false unemployment claims. This deplorable crime comes at a time when many are most vulnerable. Fraudulent unemployment claims now swamp the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) offices. With massive layoffs occurring with the pandemic, there have also been tens of thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims. At one point, IDES employees had so many claims they were unable to verify them all. An outdated system, lack of oversight and controls created the perfect atmosphere for rampant unemployment fraud and no one is immune. For those who are actually unemployed, fraudulent claims are preventing them from obtaining much-needed benefits.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE BEEN A VICTIM OF UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD?
According to the IDES website, you may be a victim of unemployment fraud if,
- You receive a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter (UI Finding) and have not filed a claim for benefits.
- You are notified by your employer that a claim for benefits has been filed when you have not been separated from employment.
- You attempt to file a claim online and one already exists.
- You receive IRS correspondence regarding unreported UI benefits.
- You receive notice of a state or federal tax offset.
UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD AFFECTS MANY
Diane, a social worker, was stunned when she received a letter from the IDES office in the mail. She never imaged that she would ever receive a letter like this, considering she recently celebrated 30 years with her employer. Diane immediately notified her HR department and reported the fraudulent claim on the Reporting Unemployment Insurance Fraud – IDES (illinois.gov) site. Unemployment fraud victims are advised to notify their employers and the IDES office immediately. The best practice is for victims to fill out a police report, contact the (3) credit bureaus, and enroll in an identity theft protection service. Taking these extra steps is critical especially as tax season approaches.
Frank, an elementary school teacher, was equally surprised when he opened the IDES envelope and discovered a claim filed in his name. He knew he did not file an unemployment claim because he has been teaching remotely for 12 months. Frank thought it was a joke until talking with several family members and realized how problematic it was. Once he reported the fraud to his employer and IDES office, he started to think about other ways to protect his data.
Deidra, a retiree was shocked to receive a letter from IDES. Retired for over 5 years, she has not received unemployment since she was in her 20s. Even more, disturbing was IDES referenced her current bank account number in their letter telling her where her unemployment benefits would be sent. As a precaution, she filed a police report, notified the credit bureaus, and had to close her bank account and open a new one.
WHAT’S BEING DONE
The phones at the State’s Attorney General Office are flooded daily with thousands of fraud complaints. In a statement, the IL Attorney General’s office announced plans to collaborate with the FBA to create a task force. The sole responsibility of the task force will be to investigate unemployment fraud. “The task force on Unemployment Insurance Benefits Fraud will for the first time allow a broad coalition of federal, state, and local law enforcement to collaborate and share resources and address widespread unemployment insurance benefits fraud,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said. Residents have their hands full with working remotely, navigating e-learning, and the COVID-19 virus, while others are combating false unemployment claims. The scammers stole information from residents during a global pandemic and economic downturn. The resources from various government institutions are working together to investigate a scam of this size. This special task force needs to decipher between people who need benefits and the victims of fraud. The Illinois Department of Revenue increased security protocols to prevent fraudulent tax returns.
“Bad actors have taken advantage of a global pandemic that has pushed desperate people to unemployment insurance agencies for economic relief,” IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards said. “While this massive fraud scheme has redirected the valuable man-hours and resources the department would be better served to use assisting claimants, IDES remains committed to detecting and shutting these claims down and will continue to support law enforcement’s efforts to find the fraudsters behind these crimes.”
The investigation of the Unemployment fraud is ongoing by the federal, state, and local authorities. It is still unclear how the scammers got access to the personal information of millions of Illinois residents. The scammers used a national crisis to commit such an egregious act. This horrible act is yet another obstacle and source of stress in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The IDES strongly encourages anyone who has received notice that an unemployment insurance claim has been fraudulently filed in their name to immediately report the claim to the department via its website or by calling (800) 814-0513.
Theresa Horton is a freelance writer living in Chicago. Follow her on her social media @passionateresources (Instagram).