Fraud investigation unveils ‘levels of failure’ in unemployment system

Ohio

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Unemployment in Ohio is on its way down, but fraud in the unemployment system is apparently on its way up.

The jobless rate in the state reached a hight of 16.4 percent last April near the beginning of the pandemic. It’s down to less than 6 percent now.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber said about a year ago, state lawmakers called on his office to do a performance audit of the unemployment system because jobless Ohioans were reporting they would wait hours on the phone trying to get assistance, only to be disconnected. They were having trouble accessing needed benefits.

“A performance audit is that we go in and look at the way they do things and try to figure out ways for them to do things better, faster, cheaper,” Faber said.

Faber said this is how his investigators detected security breaches.

“With that, I launched under our authority under Section 117 of the Code, an audit in the public interest to take a look at the fraud, and the fraud is rampant,” Faber said. “We had an unemployment comp claim come here, to the auditor’s office, for me. And as an elected official, I’m not eligible for unemployment comp, so I know I didn’t file it. That’s happening all across businesses, all over Ohio.”

That’s right – the auditor in charge of investigating fraud became a victim of fraud. And so did NBC 4’s Colleen Marshall. The letter she received from fraudsters contained her name, address, and social security number.

In addition, the letters sent to fraud victims usually provide a temporary password for the unemployment claim filed in their name.

There were 200,000 fraud claims filed in the first two months of 2021.

“The unemployment process has so many different levels of what I would call failure,” he said.

Based on their initial findings, Faber’s office kept digging.

“And the fraud is rampant,” Faber said. “It’s both in the state system that’s the ordinary unemployment system, and it’s in the pandemic system.”

People who deserve the benefits couldn’t get them. People who are still working were victims of fraud.

“The other problem you’re hearing when you talk to businesses is that businesses are now getting to the point they can’t trust that the claims that are coming in and they’re alerting people, they can’t trust that the claims are valid,” Faber said.

State and federal money is going into the wrong hands, and Faber’s office is trying to find a way to clean it up.

“Washington state was the first state that alerted us and made us start asking the questions,” Faber said. “They were hit to the tune of about half a billion dollars. Ohio announced early on that they were in the $200-$300 million range. We’re afraid that it may be approaching the Washington state numbers, or maybe even higher.”

If you receive a letter your believe to be a fraud, report it to the ODJFS website.

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