Local police departments have reported an avalanche of fraud complaints in 2020, with most related to fake unemployment compensation award notices being sent to gainfully employed residents.

The scheme comes at a time when, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state unemployment agencies across the nation saw a surge in claims as businesses, particularly in the restaurant and personal service industries, shut down and laid off staff due to stay-at-home orders issued in March.

Despite the easing of those restrictions during the summer, the fraud complaints have continued unabated, with local police responding to a skyrocketing number of incidents.

Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said Dec. 15 that in the prior 60 days his department had fielded 66 unemployment fraud complaints. In all of 2019, he said, Riverside police handed just 30 fraud complaints of any kind.

He described the situation as “out of control.”

Brookfield police, meanwhile, had taken 158 fraud reports in 2020 through Dec. 20. While those might not all be related to unemployment insurance cases, it likely accounts for most of them.

In 2019, Brookfield police handled 77 total fraud reports and just 47 the year before.

“It’s gotten to the point where we have a standard template to use now for these reports,” said Detective Sgt. Nicholas Hahn, who urged anyone receiving a suspected fraudulent notice of unemployment benefits from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) to report it to police.

The problem has become so prevalent that on Dec. 21, the Brookfield Police Department announced it had developed a pamphlet on financial identity theft that was available to residents reporting fraud incidents.

According to the IDES website, the fraudulent claims are the result of computer hackers stealing identities and using them to create bank accounts where any proceeds they receive can quickly be moved off shore.

If you are the victim of unemployment insurance fraud, you are not responsible for repaying any proceeds paid out under your name.

The IDES says you can spot unemployment insurance fraud in a number of ways:

You receive a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter but have not filed for any benefits.

Your employer notifies you that a claim for benefits has been filed, but you are still employed.

You attempt to file a claim and one under your name already exists.

The IRS sends you a letter about you receiving unreported unemployment insurance benefits.

You get a notice of a state or federal tax offset.

In addition to contacting local police, if you suspect you are a victim of unemployment insurance fraud, you should contact IDES at 800-814-0513 to report it. 

If you receive a debit card in the mail, do not activate it and do not contact the bank listed with that correspondence. You should also request free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com to see if they contain any fraudulent activity.