Monday, March 8, 2021

Victims of Unemployment Fraud Forced to Fight Indiana’s Workforce Development System



As if here in honest to goodness Indiana the state isn’t being run badly enough, the Hoosier state’s ineptly run Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is doing it’s part to cause more unnecessary pain and anguish to Indiana taxpayers. Back on February 4th, 2021 Bob Segall over at WTHR reported on how the state is failing to provide adequate customer service to those who are the victims of unemployment insurance fraud.

Segall reports

For many Hoosiers who find themselves out of work because of COVID-19, getting laid off has not been the most frustrating aspect of the pandemic.

“As of September 1, we were all out of jobs,” said Erin Fisher-Leser, a compliance specialist who was laid off this fall by an Indianapolis travel management company. “There I was, filing for unemployment for the first time in a really, really long time, and when I tried to file online, I was locked out of the system.”

Yvonne Matlock tells the same story. The pandemic triggered job cuts at the healthcare facility where she worked as a fundraiser. And even though Yvonne received a severance package, former co-workers encouraged her to begin the process of establishing an account with the state unemployment office.

“My last day of employment was Nov. 6,” she told 13News. “Right away I got online to set up my account and it said I already had an account. I couldn’t even set anything up. I knew something was wrong.”

Erin and Yvonne quickly discovered why they could not set up accounts to file unemployment claims with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development: somebody had already beat them to it.

“Someone had opened an account on the 29th of June under my previous married name of over 30 years ago. They also set up bank account routing information,” Erin said.

“Someone filed a claim using my Social Security number in Philadelphia,” Yvonne explained. “I’ve never lived in Philadelphia in my life, so when I talked to someone at the unemployment office, I said ‘No, that’s not me.’”

Yvonne and Erin are victims of a widespread cyber fraud scheme that has diverted tens of billions of dollars in unemployment assistance away from the laid-off workers who need it most. It is happening all across the country. But here in Indiana, state officials are hesitant to discuss the scope of the problem, and 13 Investigates has discovered Indiana’s unemployment system often revictimizes the unemployed workers it is supposed to help.

Segall goes onto report that Yvonne and Erin have spent countless hours trying to email and call DWD and speak to the Fraud Investigators or someone to help get these issues resolved so they can collect unemployment. But as Yvonne said: “I feel like they don’t care, that they just really don’t care,” Yvonne told 13News. “When you call, you get a different person every time. It’s like you’re not even a number to them. You’re just a person on the other end of the phone,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Unfortunately as Segall reports Yvonne and Erin are some of only many, many victims of unemployment insurance fraud:

“This is the largest cyber attack in terms of fraud in American history. Period,” said Blake Hall, a security expert who founded ID.me, a company that is now helping Indiana DWD and other state unemployment offices fend off massive amounts of fraud. “You have organized crime rings from Russia, from China, from Nigeria, from Ghana, as well as a lot of domestic identity thieves, and they’re all working together on the dark web. They’re sharing information about how each state works to defraud the state, and they just follow a playbook.”

Now of course Bob Segall and WTHR have tried to contact DWD directly and speak with them about the issues that the state is having with unemployment insurance fraud, but as has been the custom since the election of “Godfather” Governor Mitch Daniels, DWD refuses to be transparent with we the people:

13 Investigates contacted DWD in early December 2020 to ask how big this problem is across Indiana. Specifically, 13News asked how many fraudulent unemployment claims the department had received, how much of the $6.48 billion in 2020 unemployment payouts went to con artists trying to scam Indiana’s PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) program, and the steps DWD takes when it determines that an unemployment claim has been filed by an individual using another person’s Social Security number.

It appears Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development either doesn’t know the answers to those questions or will not publicly release the information. Two months after receiving WTHR’s request submitted under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, DWD has not answered any of 13News’ questions and has repeatedly refused to meet with 13 Investigates to discuss the issue.

On Jan. 7, DWD spokesman Bob Birge told 13News “I hope to have some answers for you shortly,” and when asked again a week later, Birge wrote “Will check on your APRA request.” He has not responded since. The governor’s office also declined a request for an interview.

Segall also points out that “ state officials in Colorado, Ohio and Colorado are willing to openly discuss their unemployment fraud numbers, state leaders in Indiana have, so far, chosen not to release that type of information.”

It appears though that Segall and 13 News have gotten someone’s attention at DWD because DWD Commissioner Fredrick Payne decided to come down from his thrown and actually say something to Segall:

“We’ve become targets of fraudsters and scammers,” Payne said while discussing the state’s unemployment program during the governor’s weekly COVID-19 virtual press conference. “Seventy-one percent of current PUA claims have fraud indicators that require additional investigation.”

Since the DWD Commissioner refused to given any concrete information about the extend of the fraud issues with Indiana’s Unemployment System, Segall and WTHR obtained a list of identity theft complaints related to unemployment fraud from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

Segall goes onto say: 

According to the AG’s data, the first unemployment identity theft complaints in Indiana came in late April, just a few weeks after DWD implemented the federal PUA program. In June, the AG’s office received 14 complaints of identity theft linked to unemployment claims. By December, Hoosiers were filing more than 550 complaints per month – a nearly 4,000% increase.

So what is DWD doing to combat the increased unemployment fraud? Well for the answer to that you will have come back for tomorrow’s blog post where we will be discussing this issue more in depth. Till tomorrow this is the Indy Republican crew signing off.





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