I was a victim of unemployment fraud. Here’s what I learned

The first indication my identity was used in an attempt to defraud Ohio’s unemployment system was a letter addressed to my employer — but mailed to my house.

The form, a “Request to Employer for Separation Information,” arrived in January. It said that I had filed for unemployment on Jan. 2. I had not.

The form was plastered with red flags. It had my Social Security number, but off by one digit. The listed phone number was for the Journal-News in Butler County, where I worked 10 years ago. I sent a copy to our human resources department, who assured me I had still had a job.

Two days later, a temporary PIN to access my claim came in the mail.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

I called the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Marietta Adjudication Center listed on the form to tell them it was fraud. After a 48 minute wait, a woman told me to call the agency’s benefit control unit.

I called three times but couldn’t get through. A message said: “We are experiencing exceptionally high call volumes. Please call again at another time.”

I tried reporting the fraud online using the agency’s fraud reporting website, which required me to list myself as the person committing fraud and then explain in the notes that I, and the state, were the victims. I received no response.

ODJFS has disclosed it was grappling with fraud concerns. In August, the agency announced it froze 270,000 benefits they suspected were fraudulent. The value of the fraudulent claims was up to $200 million a week. The agency said this month the number of flagged claims has exceeded 800,000.

In January, the state sent out 1.7 million 1099-G tax forms to Ohioans who had received unemployment last year. That’s how numerous people learned for the first time someone else collected benefits in their name.

Complaints picked up, and ODJFS created a web portal for people to report their identity might have been used to file for fraudulent unemployment. Agency officials say so far 100,000 people have used the website.

I filled it out as well. It asked for my full Social Security number, date of birth and driver’s license number — all from someone who just found out their identity was stolen. Several people have told me they were reluctant to enter that information. I received an email confirmation.

The agency launched a phone hotline for victims this month. I called it to see if a claim had been paid in my name. The woman who answered first directed me to the old website to report the fraud. After I told her it was already reported, and informing her of the new website her agency offers, she said the claim was already flagged and had not been paid.

ODJFS recommends people take additional steps, such as visiting annualcreditreport.com to check for other signs of identity theft that could affect their credit score. I did and luckily found nothing.

The agency also pointed to guidance from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which advised people to file a local police report. I called Kettering police. They sent an officer out, who said they were so inundated with reports they were referring people to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Kettering officials say reports of fraud picked up in January, and they have received 52 unemployment fraud complaints in total. Other agencies have seen an uptick as well. Dayton police have taken 130 identity theft-related unemployment fraud complaints since the beginning of 2020.

Officials from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office say people can file a report with local police, but they need to report the fraud to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The AG’s office doesn’t have a role unless the person believes their credit was compromised, in which case the AG’s office can step in and help.

State officials have said that the fraud is likely tied to several massive data breaches in recent years, and the scale of the effort reinforces how much of our information is out there. Since getting my notice in the mail, other reporters, business leaders, government officials — even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted — have shared similar stories.

“We know with major identity breaches in the last few years… a lot of our identities, from the governor down to reporters, our identities have been compromised,” said ODJFS spokesman Tom Betti.

About the Author