Efforts to filter out a flood of likely fraudulent unemployment claims have delayed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ ability to quickly process claims for Ohioans legitimately in need, agency officials said Wednesday.
Ohio has entered into a $1 million contract with Cincinnati-based consulting firm Russell Allen Partners to identify ways to stem the fraud and improve claim processing.
Meanwhile, agency officials have added manual steps to make sure automated processes don’t inadvertently pay out improper claims. Approval steps that took 10 days before could now take twice as long, said ODJFS Director Kimberly Henderson in a conference call with reporters.
“I’m very sorry, our agency is deeply sorry, the criminal actions of those hoping to benefit from this worldwide emergency have caused hardship and anxiety for honest people in the state of Ohio,” she said.
ODJFS reported this month that in December it identified 56,000 fraudulent unemployment payments totaling more than $330 million.
The state has flagged more than 800,000 claims as potentially fraudulent, and that number is growing. Of the 140,444 new unemployment claims filed in the first week of February, state officials have flagged 44,000 as likely fraudulent.
Much of the fraud is reportedly tied to criminals in other countries using stolen identities to file fraudulent claims. Victims are finding out their identities were used when they receive documents from the state regarding unemployment benefits they never applied for.
More than 100,000 people have reported to ODJFS they believe their identity was used to file a fraudulent claim, Henderson said.
The state’s contract is for $1 million through July for Russell Allen to hire five people and assemble as many as 20 volunteer executives and experts to address problems in the unemployment system.
Jeff Ficke, managing director of Russell Allen, said he is assembling a team including experts from companies such as Fifth Third Bank, Key Bank, Nationwide Insurance, Western & Southern Financial Group.
“Our mission has been really crystal clear that we should be focused on taking immediate actions,” he said. “As we talk about things as far fraud from a preventative perspective, the claims backlog and the ability for us to provide the right level of customer service, we’re focused completely on doing those types of things.”
Asked how soon he believes they can shut down the fraud funnel, he said their plans are to have goals set for 30, 60 and 90 days.
“There’s some things we can impact immediately, there’s some things that are going to take longer, but we’re looking under every rock and looking at every technology partner to help us find the right ways to mitigate and minimize that risk,” he said.
Are you the victim of ID theft-related unemployment fraud?
Hotline: State officials launched a hotline for people who suspect their identity was improperly used to file for unemployment benefits. The number is (833) 658-0394.
Website: Individuals and employers can visit unemployment.ohio.gov to report suspected unemployment fraud and obtain information on what to do if you or your employee’s identity may have been compromised.