Fraudsters targeting IDES with fake unemployment claims made in workers’ names

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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Problems with the Illinois Department of Employment Security continue Monday, now as some residents report fraudsters attempting to collect unemployment in their name.

First it was fake debit cards landing in unsuspecting victim’s mailboxes, and now there is another way the bad guys are using people’s stolen identities.

The owners of a Crystal Lake hair salon say they got a letter in the mail on June 22 asking them to verify that one of their stylists applied for unemployment during the pandemic.

Shelly Hyland has worked with Sondra Spears for years, so she immediately tracked her down and asked if she applied for unemployment. Especially since she was still paying her.

“My boss called me and said, did you file for unemployment?” Spears said. “I was like, no.”

Fraudsters had Sondra Spears’ social security number right, even her start date at the salon was darn close. Her fear now is: if they can try to swindle the IDES system out of money, what else could they do with her information?

Hyland is the co-owner of Paul Hyland’s Salon and Day Spa, where Spears works as a stylist.

“I said, not only did I not file, I have never filed for unemployment in my life,” Spears said. “I don’t even know why I would be in the system.”

Both women say they tried to report the fraud to IDES and the police, and both Spears and the salon put a hold on their credit reports. But neither is getting anywhere when it comes to fully understanding the crime or correcting the record.

“Our fear is that if we have to shut down some time, and there is not another PPPplan in place to keep ppl on payroll, we will have to tell our employees to go on unemployment,” Hyland said. “We’re worried someone will have filed an imposter claim and they will not be able to file for unemployment.”

The money at stake is taxpayer money which goes towards unemployment dollars.

Because no one at ides picks up the phone or answers email requests to set the record straight, these women have no idea how the fraud is actually playing out, nor how financially vulnerable they may be.

“I don’t know if this person is getting paid now, perhaps they put in their bank account info and they are collecting unemployment, I just don’t know,” said financial columnist Terry Savage.

Better known as “the Money Lady,” Savage has been watching this fraud from the start.

“The real issue here is how much money has IDES paid out to these imposters filing claims because they won’t listen to the employers. Even employers trying to report fraud can’t get through,” Savage said. “It’s like a giant open door where money is flowing out of IDES and they aren’t listening.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, one week later it appeared a second employee at the same hair salon was filing for unemployment. She wasn’t. 

Paul Hyland paid his employees throughout the entire lockdown last spring, despite the fact that the salon was closed for business the entire time.

“My real fear is that I will have to prove myself innocent and that I will be guilty of something that I did not do and hand no hand in,” Spears said. “I am a victim of fraud that they allowed.”

As if Spear’s story wasn’t bad enough, one week later, it appeared a second employee at the same hair salon was filing for unemployment too. She wasn’t.

Last week, Pritzker told Illinois residents to file a report somehow and some way with IDEA so you don’t get hit with a 1099 form next year.  That form says you owe the IRS taxes for the unemployment money you never actually received.

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