“Hundreds of billions in pandemic funds attracted fraudsters seeking to exploit the UI program — resulting in historic levels of fraud and other improper payments.”
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services officials last month said more than $1.1 billion was identified as paid out in fraudulent overpayments as of the end of June. Most of this was in a temporary program set up during the pandemic for people who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment.
State officials say they have recovered or prevented the payout of nearly $400 million in fraudulent payments and sent numerous investigative referrals to federal law enforcement officials.
“Like the rest of nation, Ohio was hit hard by criminals trying to defraud unemployment over the course of the pandemic,” said ODJFS spokeswoman Dasia Clemente.
“We’re in a much different place now because of our investments in anti-fraud technology,” Clemente said. “We’ve also made it a priority to better understand fraud, and how best to work with financial institutions and law enforcement to document fraud and recover stolen funds.”
There have been a handful of arrests in Ohio for unemployment fraud. State and federal officials say many of the perpetrators are overseas.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in July introduced legislation, backed solely by fellow Republicans, to encourage states to step up insurance fraud investigations. Among other things, the Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act would allow states to keep 25% of any improper payments they recover and put the money toward investigations and prosecutions, as well as strengthening program integrity.
At the time, the total lost to unemployment fraud nationally was estimated at $163 billion.
“Billions of dollars spent to help American families were stolen by individual criminals and transnational criminal organizations,” Portman spokeswoman Meghan Dugan said.
Dugan said in addition to the legislation and calls for more accountability from federal agencies, “(Portman) supports the continued efforts of federal, state, and local officials to bring fraudsters and criminals to justice.”