CHARLOTTE — Unemployment fraud is an ongoing issue, but now more people than usual are reporting it to Action 9. In fact, at the time of this report, 26 have contacted Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke, including Essynce Victoria and Pamela Green.
It appears someone applied for unemployment benefits using their personal information.
“It was really strange because I hadn’t filed for it, so I know that somebody has to be doing it on behalf of me,” Victoria said. “That’s scary.”
“I knew right away that it wasn’t me because I’ve never filed for unemployment, ever,” Green said.
Both women told Stoogenke the state had sent them letters to confirm their information for unemployment benefits and that’s how they discovered someone was trying to apply for benefits using their names.
Over the last month, others have told Stoogenke similar stories, including a Bank of America employee, a nurse, a UNC Charlotte worker and a Union County teacher.
North Carolina officials confirmed to Channel 9 that there has been an uptick in cases, stating that they’ve “detected a recent increase in suspected imposter fraud.”
Channel 9 has reported on unemployment fraud often. It has been big business for scammers, especially during the pandemic because of the extra funds the federal government provided to the programs.
According to unemployment officials, the average North Carolinian received $235 per week for unemployment last year. In South Carolina, the average is about $230, depending on the week.
During part of the pandemic, the federal government paid an additional $300 each week for unemployment.
Stoogenke asked officials in both states how much money unemployment fraud costs taxpayers each year, but he did not hear back in time for this report.
In January 2021, an Indian Trail man pleaded guilty in one of these cases. Prosecutors said he tricked multiple states, including North Carolina, out of more than $150,000 in unemployment benefits.
A few months later, a Charlotte man pleaded guilty in another case. Prosecutors said he filed for unemployment in both states using nine different names and tried to collect between $250,000 and $550,000 from that and another crime.
Federal labor officials said criminals typically get someone’s personal information through data breaches.
ID.me is a company that verifies people’s identities for many state unemployment agencies, including those in both Carolinas. ID.me told Stoogenke scammers buy and sell the data on the dark web, where criminals often do business online. The company even gave Stoogenke a screenshot that reads like a normal classified ad.
Stoogenke said if someone tries to get unemployment benefits in your name, it means your identity has been stolen. Take these steps:
- Freeze your credit if you haven’t already.
- Keep a close eye on your bank accounts.
- Change the passwords to all your financial accounts.
- Report the crime to your boss and your state’s unemployment office.
“So now I have to be the one to freeze my credit and make sure that nothing else has been done in my name,” Victoria said. “It’s not fair, but here we are.”
“I have to take time out of my day and hope that this doesn’t go any further,” Green said.
(WATCH: Several reports of unemployment fraud reported to Action 9)
©2022 Cox Media Group