Illinois’ unemployment fraud losses: Nearly $15 million and counting

WGN Investigates

The Illinois Department of Employment Security for months has declined to disclose how much it lost to fraudulent claims, even as other state agencies release the same information.

Now, WGN Investigates has learned the agency reported to the U.S. Department of Labor that it lost more than $14.8 million to fraud since the pandemic began.

And while that number is large, it is not a final accounting.

“I would have a hard time thinking that the state lost $14.8 million,” says cybersecurity expert Haywood Talcove, an executive with LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “That would be a miracle.”

Indeed, an IDES spokeswoman says the $14.8 million is “reflective of fraud” committed by people who were allegedly working at the same time they were collecting benefits.

“This does not include any number associated with identity theft-related unemployment fraud,” she says in an email, adding “IDES is one of many states still quantifying a dollar amount attributable to” that crime.

Meanwhile, cybercriminals are becoming even more brazen.

Take Melissa Hitson, for example. She filed a claim last year with IDES after losing her job as a suburban school bus driver in the pandemic.

Just recently a cyber-criminal tapped into her online IDES account.

And without her knowledge, changed her bank information so two payments totaling $3,000 were routed somewhere else.

“I’m like, are they monitoring my computer?” she says. “Are they getting emails telling them I’m updating my banking info? I’ve noticed the banking information changed six times.”

It happened enough times that IDES finally locked her account. 

But she’s still waiting for those lost payments.

“They just told me they’re investigating it and as soon as it’s resolved they will go ahead and release the funds,” she says.

“If the investigation leads to the conclusion that a person’s account information has been changed and payment was diverted elsewhere, payment will be reissued to the affected claimant.  However, it is important to note and understand that these investigations can take quite some time to complete due to the need to subpoena banking information from financial institutions,” An IDES spokeswoman said.

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