by: Blair Miller Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None - The fraud adds up to millions of dollars in just months.
Investigators learned of Ebony Wiggins in 2008. According to the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, she collected more than $9,000 in unemployment benefits from March to September that year.
Investigators said she claimed those benefits while she had a job working at Myers Park Mortgage on Providence Road.
The state says she is part of a growing list of people arrested and accused of trying to cheat the system.
Investigator Marvin Francis is currently looking into hundreds of active fraud cases in Mecklenburg County.
He said the number of cases is growing because of so many people struggling to make ends meet.
The amount of money people are trying to get away with is growing, too, he said.
In just the last six months, the state has detected $10.7 million in unemployment fraud, nearly double what it was two years ago.
“I just looked into my own personal inventory and the average overpayment that I’ve dealt with since December is somewhere around, $3,000,” Francis said.
Now, state fraud investigators are seeing more cases like Amy Smith’s. Investigators believe she claimed weeks of unemployment benefits that she should not have received.
In all, she collected $5,500.
“(This is) very serious. Every instance of misrepresentation is a violation of the law,” Francis said.
In the most extreme cases, they are arrested and end up in court, like Wiggins.
Last week, she pleaded guilty to unemployment fraud.
She refused to comment to reporters after her court case, but she did agree to repay the money she collected on a monthly plan.
But with the economy still sour and millions of dollars uncollected, the ESC’s Fraud Director, Chinita Arceneaux, said they are getting more aggressive.
A computer database now automatically checks for fraud against employer records every week. The ESC is also adding more investigators.
“We have intensified our efforts in terms of attempting to detect, prevent and recover any fraudulent overpayments, any fraudulent claim benefits,” Arceneaux said.
Fraud investigators said once they find someone receiving benefits when they should not, the person typically agrees to repay the money without going to court.
Investigators also said they are getting more and more tips from people who abuse the system.
To file a tip on unemployment fraud with the ESC, click here.