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Victims of unemployment fraud struggling to notify state labor department

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 06:42:44-05

BALTIMORE — While many still wait for their unemployment insurance benefits, scammers have found a way to cheat the system.

“My employer sent me an email. I thought it was like, oh this a spam email, but then when I got the phone call, I knew it was real,” said Dorothea Townes.

Townes was informed that someone had used her name and social security number to file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits.

“I felt violated, I was depressed, I was overanxious because I never had anything like that done to me before,” Townes said.

She learned about it a week ago. Twenty minutes after being notified, she started calling the Department of Labor.

“I could never get anyone on the phone. I started out at 7 a.m. all the way through 3:30 p.m. Never got any answers, replies, nothing,” said Townes.

On Tuesday, she was alerted to a WMAR-2 News Facebook Live on unemployment. Townes asked WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii what she should do.

Sofastaii notified the Department of Labor and by that evening, the fraudulently filed claim had been blocked and Townes’s social security number removed.

The department is well aware of this fraudulent activity. More than 306,000 claims have been flagged, 85 percent were deemed fraudulent. Eleven percent of the flagged claims were approved, and 3 percent, or around 9,700 are still under review.

Townes’s HR department also told her that her co-workers have experienced the same issue.

“She said it’s not just you, it’s quite a few of you all,” Townes said.

Townes wishes there was an easier way to get through to the department. She’s worried someone who needs unemployment won't be able to access their benefits due to fraudulent activity.

“I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed and to do something about it, but for those that aren’t, down the line they’re going to run into this big issue,” said Townes.

How to report unemployment insurance fraud
The Department of Labor is asking anyone who thinks they may be a victim to contact the Benefit Payment Control Unit. Click here to complete a “Request for Investigation of Unemployment Insurance Fraud” form and e-mail it to ui.fraud@maryland.gov.

Townes was informed by the department that there hasn’t been a breach in the unemployment system. Fraudsters are using identities and information stolen from prior data breaches such as Equifax, Target, and Office of Personnel Management.

While Townes was alerted to the fraud by her employer, many people are now just learning their information was used after receiving tax forms in the mail.

If you received a 1099-G tax form but did not apply for unemployment insurance benefits in Maryland in 2020, click here to complete an Affidavit form and submit it along with picture ID to the Benefit Payment Control Unit by e-mailing dlui1099-labor@maryland.gov.

In an attempt to protect yourself from any future fraud attacks, the department also suggests:

  • Requesting your free credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com and review them for other fraudulent activities.
  • Notifying all three credit bureaus that you have been a victim of identity theft: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.
  • Filing a police report with the local authorities.
  • Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Filing a National Center for Disaster Fraud Complaint Form.
  • And here are tips from the Maryland State Police.