Fraudulent unemployment claims have soared in Illinois with scammers directing jobless benefits to their own accounts even as record numbers of residents sought relief due to the coronavirus pandemic, state officials said.
More than 212,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits have been filed since March 1, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Acting IDES director, Kristin Richards, said the agency “is experiencing fraud in an order of magnitude we’ve never seen before.”
About 169,000 of those claims were filed under a program created through the federal coronavirus relief package that extended benefits to self-employed and gig workers, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Nearly 42,500 other fraudulent claims were filed under the system for regular state benefits.
Richards said at a Monday news conference that department staff are trying to determine how many fraudulent claims have been paid out. Illinois had provided more than $17.7 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 1.3 million people from March 1 through the end of October, IDES said.
Anyone who has been a victim of fraud is not liable for any unemployment benefits paid in their name, Richards said.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said his office has received more than 4,000 calls about unemployment insurance fraud.
“Anyone can be targeted,” he said.
Experts say fraudsters typically file claims using personal data leaked from past data breaches.
In fraud cases that involve identity theft, some victims discover they are a victim when they receive a letter from the department saying a claim has been filed in their name, or their employer receives a letter. People who have received such letters but have not filed for unemployment should immediately call the Illinois Department of Employment Security at 800-814-0513 to flag the case as fraudulent, officials said.
The letters include debit cards, which the state sends out to people once they file for benefits. Those cards are not preloaded with funds, but the state sends them in case people want to have their benefits loaded onto the card rather than deposited into their bank accounts, said IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco.
Scammers are able to obtain the funds by directing the state to send benefits to their own accounts, rather than to the debit cards.
Brian Dolan, 63, discovered that he was a fraud victim when he received a letter from the state agency saying a claim had been submitted in his name, even though he had not filed one.
Dolan, who is the president of Ambulance Transportation, which operates ATI Ambulance, Trace Ambulance and Vandenberg Ambulance in Chicago, said he's worried about identity theft because someone appeared to be using his information to illegally obtain benefits.
“Do they have my Social Security (number)? I don’t know. But how did they get my wage information?” Dolan asked.