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‘Crime rings’ targeting federal unemployment, hurting jobless workers in need

Maggie Prosser

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“Sophisticated crime rings” are filing fraudulent claims targeting Ohio’s coronavirus pandemic relief programs and pocketing millions of dollars in benefits, according to the state’s unemployment offices.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (DJFS) placed temporary holds on 270,000 suspected fraudulent unemployment claims filed under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program in July. The department said in a press release that 95% of these claims — an estimated $200 million in benefits — are illegitimate.

“Unfortunately, there are criminals hoping to take advantage of the COVID-19 emergency at the expense of honest Ohioans who have earned their benefits,” DJFS Director Kimberly Hall said. “We regret that legitimate claimants have been caught up in this fraud scheme, but we are charged with maintaining program integrity so that we can preserve benefits for those who need them.”

Bret Crow, a spokesman for the department, said that flagged claims had “multiple fraud indicators,” including invalid email addresses, forged IP addresses and bank routing numbers associated with fraud in other states. Additionally, the department received about 1,700 claims for deceased individuals, and in three instances, the same email address was used to file over 100 PUA claims.

Crow said DJFS is working with federal partners, including the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, to identify repeatedly-used and inauthentic banks and routing numbers.

About 2,000 claims for payment have been released to claimants after the department verified their legitimacy, he said.

DJFS has implemented a second, comprehensive round of identity verification for new claims, and claimants whose benefits have been withheld have received information on extensive documentation to submit to the department including bank routing information.

Nearly 250 employees  — 185 regular unemployment adjudicators and 60 temporary staff — have been reassigned to help process these claims, however, the department did not specify how long this vetting and verification process could take.

Michigan, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania, Washington, Arizona, Rhode Island, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Arkansas have also reported slews of falsified claims flooding their unemployment agencies.

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