With Unemployment Fraud Rising, Local Advisers Preach Vigilance

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With tens of thousands fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits submitted to the state of Ohio, local business advisers recommend a simple course of action for anyone who’s personal information has been used: Report it.

“No. 1, you have to respond. You have to acknowledge it and make it know that it’s fraudulent,” says Brian Battaglia, CEO of L. Calvin Jones in Canfield. 

Reports can filed through the “Report Identity Theft” button at UnemploymentHelp.ohio.gov or by calling 833 658 0394. In its weekly unemployment claims update released Thursday, the Department of Job and Family Services said it had received more than 140,000 new claims for the week ended Feb. 6 and more than half had been flagged as fraudulent.

“Our office of Unemployment Insurance Operations is investigating all claims that were flagged for potential fraud and taking steps to implement more robust identity verification in the traditional unemployment program, as well as other measures,” the agency said in a statement. “Anyone who suspects their identity was compromised and used to file a fraudulent unemployment claim is urged to report it to us immediately.”

Most people are finding out their information has been used in a fraudulent claim when they receive a 1099-C tax form from the state, say Battaglia and Jerri Pasternack, president of the worker’s compensation and unemployment group at The Tartan Companies. 

Businesses are also receiving paperwork, part of the regular unemployment process that requires them to verify a claim before it can be paid out and charged to them.

“Benefits can’t be paid out and charged out to the employer without them getting some sort of notification from the unemployment office that a claim has been filed. In that case, they shouldn’t ignore it. Return that paperwork, “ Pasternack says. “It’s difficult for an employer to file a fraud claim online because the questions that are asked don’t give you an area to specifically state that.”

For businesses who have claims filed under the name of an active employee or someone who’s never worked for the company, she recommends faxing the fraud claim into the Department of Job and Family Services using the number include on the request for separation form.

“Keep that confirmation, that way you as an employer have documentation that you put the bureau on notice,” she says.

If an employee receives notification that their information has been used in a fraudulent claim, Pasternack also suggests that they follow up with a credit bureau and their bank to ensure that their information isn’t rippling out into further identity theft.

When paperwork arrives after a fraudulent claim, Battaglia and Pasternack both note that the documents may have incorrect information. When L. Calvin Jones received paperwork regarding a current employee, the first name listed on the documents was incorrect. At Tartan, Pasternack says she’s worked with women clients who received paperwork listing their maiden name.

“If you get paperwork, check it closely to make sure it’s legitimate,” Battaglia advises. “

Once a notice has been filed with the Department of Job and Family Services, especially for employees, it’s important to stay aware of the claim’s status. Pasternack says she’s seen businesses get determinations about a case and then have the claim paid anyway.

“Do not assume that the unemployment office will correct it. You need to file your appeals to ensure that it’s denied in its entirety,” she says.

For businesses that don’t handle fraudulent claims filed, it could lead to an increase in their unemployment insurance rates. Thought the state has said it won’t factor fraudulent claims into their calculations, the advisers suggest that businesses remain vigilant.

“Monies that are charged to your account will have an impact the following year,” Pasternack says. “Our concern is that we can’t determine if fraud claims are being processed because of the paperwork we’re getting and the fact that it’s difficult to get a live person from the unemployment office on the phone.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.