Unemployment fraud fueled by pandemic

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 11:01 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, meant to help those hard hit by the pandemic has become the target of scam artists...filing claims in your name. Factfinder 12 looked at how the scam works as states across the country race to keep millions of dollars from flowing into the wrong hands.

You never know what you might find when you go to the mailbox. Bills, junk mail, if you’re lucky, maybe a letter. What you don’t expect to find is a notice of an unemployment claim in your name that you never made.

Danelle Sommerfeld is the person who processes unemployment claims for employees at Immediate Medical Care in Wichita. So, you can imagine her surprise when her own claim came across her desk...that she had not filed.

“(It was) made out basically in a former name of mine, basically saying that I was trying to file for unemployment so obviously you know some light bulbs went off,” Sommerfeld said. “If anybody’s going to get money I want it to be me.”

Danelle is far from alone. Kansas Department of Labor Acting Secretary Ryan C. Wright says the problem has grown quickly and described for Factfinder 12 the current scope of unemployment fraud in the U.S.

“At the height of a normal year. The department will see between five and seven fraudulent unemployment cases,” Wright said. “This year alone, we’ve stopped 45,000 fraudulent claims from happening.”

What’s happening: Sophisticated rings of scam artists are filings hundreds of thousands of claims using bits of information from the Web, cobbled together with info obtained from various security breaches, and it’s causing headaches for labor officials and costing taxpayers an untold amount of money.

“The numbers and scale are just enormous,” Wright continued. “On Saturday alone, we stopped $35 million in fraudulent claims from paying out.”

All it takes, he says, is a first and last name here, a place of employment there until scammers have enough to file an unemployment claim in your name. Once they know the claim has been processed, they then change the information on file so the money that’s supposed to go to you, goes to them.

“It’s going to ultimately be us and our taxpayer money that’s going to go to refund this,” Danelle Sommerfeld said.

The Kansas Attorney General tells Factfinder 12 the office is working with the Department of Labor who says they’re working with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Inspector General to squash the rampant fraud before more people find themselves in the shoes of Danelle, now worried what could lie ahead.

“I just happen to be lucky enough to have the paper come across my desk,” she said. “I don’t want that, you know somehow remotely down the road affect my future affect my social security effect, whatever this could potentially, you know, obstacles that could create in the future.”

The Kansas Department of Labor has set up a website if you believe you’ve fallen victim to this scam. There you can fill out a form, obtain a police report and information on what you should do next.

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