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Eyewitness News viewers report unemployment fraud to Action 9

CHARLOTTE — Action 9 often reports on unemployment fraud. It has been a big business for scammers, especially during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke reported that two viewers contacted him within 24 hours of each other, saying that someone had stolen their personal information to apply for unemployment benefits in their name.

Since that report, more viewers have contacted Channel 9 with similar stories.

Stoogenke asked state unemployment officials Thursday whether the issue is more widespread than usual.

On Friday, officials shared a memo with Stoogenke, confirming that there has been an uptick recently.

The memo read: “The Division of Employment Security (DES) has detected a recent increase in suspected imposter fraud in the unemployment benefits system. Fraud safeguards put in place by DES flagged suspicious claims to prevent payments from being released.”

Laura Farrell is a nurse who told Stoogenke that she has never been unemployed, so she was baffled when she received a packet of unemployment information from the state.

“It’s a shame when you’ve got hardworking, middle-class people doing what they can to survive, especially with COVID,” Farrell said. “I work in nursing, and so many people have been put out of work. And you got people scamming for money ... it’s terrible.”

Farrell said she reported the identity theft to her bank, law enforcement and the state.

(WATCH BELOW: Two reports of unemployment fraud reported to Action 9 in 24 hours)

According to unemployment officials, this year the average North Carolinian receives $235 per week for unemployment. 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.

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.

In January, an Indian Trail man pleaded guilty to unemployment fraud. Prosecutors said he tricked multiple states, including North Carolina, out of more than $150,000 in 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.

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.

(WATCH: Action 9 helps Conover man get unemployment money after 16-month delay)

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