Illinois Officials Warn of Fraud Linked to Federal Pandemic Unemployment Program

An Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)An Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)

State officials announced Wednesday they are investigating a nationwide fraud schemed linked to each state’s federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

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The Illinois Department of Employment Security says it has uncovered and is investigating “a widespread fraud scheme being conducted nationwide,” impacting the federally funded PUA program implemented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The program provides benefits for many individuals, including self-employed workers and independent contractors who have become unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19.

IDES says it is “aggressively cracking down on this fraud network,” and is working with local and federal law enforcement to investigate, pursue and prosecute those defrauding the unemployment insurance system.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the fraud scheme was not the result of a breach of IDES’ systems. Fraudsters are applying for unemployment insurance using names and identities that had likely been stolen during past massive security breaches, like the 2017 Equifax breach, according to Pritzker.

IDES says the data breach in May that briefly allowed public access to applicants’ personal information was limited to one PUA claimant who was able to inadvertently access the information of a limited number of others who had already filed an unemployment claim.

If you received a letter about unemployment insurance from IDES or a debit card but didn’t apply for unemployment, you’re likely a victim of fraud, Pritzker said.

In those cases, do not activate the card, he said. Instead, contact IDES immediately at 800-814-0513 and take the following steps when prompted:

— Select the English or Spanish language option;
— Select option 1 for claimants;
— Select option 5 to report identity theft

Officials also recommend checking your credit report for possible suspicious activity and posting a fraud alert. For more information on recognizing and reporting identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.


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