$36 billion lost to fraudulent unemployment claims

WGN Investigates

It’s a problem sweeping the nation.

Increasingly, cybercriminals are using stolen identities to file fraudulent unemployment claims.

In Illinois, the state Department of Employment Security (IDES) has blocked more than 1.1 million fake claims but countless others have undoubtedly slipped through the cracks. 

The state says it’s still adding up the lost dollars. But WGN Investigates found the totals are piling up across the U.S.

In Ohio, for example, officials say more than $332 million was lost to fake claims. But nothing comes close to California, where the losses have reached $11 billion.

In all, an estimated $36 billion has been lost to fake claims, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report, issued late last year by the agency’s Inspector General.

Who exactly is on the hook for those losses is still being determined.

“There is a dialogue around what…the agencies should be reporting to the federal government and how it treats those losses,” says Kristin Richards, director of IDES.

Meanwhile, the ranks of residents who’ve had fake claims filed in their name continues to grow.

This month, Illinois mailed out 1099-G tax forms, which may alert even more people who weren’t aware that a claim was even filed, using their personal information.  

For most victims, it begins with a data breach.

Their name, date of birth, and other information ends up on the dark web, where it can be discovered by a criminal and used to file a claim.

Steps to take, if this has happened to you, include creating “high strength random” passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication, says Darren Guccione, a web security expert and head of Chicago-based Keeper Security Inc.

And if it’s happened once, don’t be surprised if it happens again.

“This is something you cannot stop being vigilant about,” Guccione says. 

WGN Investigative reporter Lourdes Duarte shared the following links to help locals combat identity theft:

  • Click here to report identity theft to the Illinois Department of Employment Security
  • Click here to learn if your e-mail is linked to public data breaches
  • Click here to read how you can report a fake claim to the government, creating a paper trail.
  • Click here to read an Equifax report on additional steps to take should you fall victim to identity theft
  • Click here to view a list of financial planner Terry Savage’s links to credit reporting sites and ways to place an alert on your credit

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