COLUMBUS, Ohio—Ohio paid at least $330 million in fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefits claims between April and December of 2020, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson said Wednesday.
It’s the latest indication of how widespread benefits scams have been, as the government lowered verification standards so it could more quickly get money in the hands of people hurt by the coronavirus crisis.
In all, 56,000 fake Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims between April and December have been identified so far, Henderson said during a Zoom call with reporters. The number of fraud cases during that period is likely to keep growing, as many reports are still being investigated, according to ODJFS spokesman Tom Betti.
During that 9-month period, more than $7.6 billion in PUA payments were made to more than 827,000 Ohioans, according to ODJFS records. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said last month that 796,000 of the 1.4 million PUA claims made in Ohio since the coronavirus crisis began have been flagged for potential fraud.
An additional 2,200 fraudulent overpayments for traditional jobless benefits, totaling $2.3 million, were made between October and December of 2020, Henderson said.
When state officials discover claims fraud, they notify the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General rather than local law enforcement “since there are typically issues with jurisdiction,” Betti stated in an email. The inspector general’s office then coordinates with the proper law enforcement authorities.
The inspector general’s office has not informed ODJFS about whether they are tracking down the scammers, nor whether any arrests have been made, Betti stated. A U.S. Department of Labor spokesman didn’t immediately answer questions Wednesday about how many cases of unemployment fraud have been confirmed in Ohio, and how many people have been arrested as a result.
Rather, he stated, the state’s efforts to prevent fraud have focused on stopping many of these claims before payments are issued. About 100,000 fraudulent PUA claims made last year were caught before any money was sent, she said.
Scammers have particularly sought to use people’s identities to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, as less documentation was required than traditional unemployment benefits, according to Henderson. However, she said, the latest coronavirus relief package, passed late last month, now requires additional employment documentation to get PUA benefits, making it harder for crooks to exploit the program.
A lot of Ohioans haven’t realized they’ve been victimized until they received a 1099 tax form in the past few weeks from ODJFS for jobless benefits they didn’t file for.
State officials have set up a new toll-free hotline for victims, as well as a website for employers, to report such fraud.
Go to the news source: Ohio paid out $330 million in fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefits last yea…