COLUMBUS, Ohio—As Ohio is being deluged with an unprecedented number of fraudulent unemployment claims, have any scammers been arrested or faced any consequences whatsoever? The federal government, which oversees such matters, won’t say.
It’s also unclear whether Ohioans victimized by unemployment fraud should bother filing a police report (in addition to notifying the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services), as well as what police departments should do when they get such reports.
ODJFS, which runs Ohio’s unemployment program, says it doesn’t directly refer claims flagged for fraud to law enforcement. Rather, it sends them to U.S. Department of Labor’s office of the inspector general to do that, as the feds have instructed states to do, according to ODJFS spokesman Tom Betti.
That office “does not confirm, deny, or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of investigations,” according to a Labor Department spokesman who asked that his name not be used.
In addition to ODJFS cases, many Ohio police reports of unemployment fraud eventually end up in the hands of the Labor Department as well.
It’s not clear whether anyone in Ohio has been apprehended for using stolen information to file bogus jobless claims. Spokespeople with the Ohio attorney general’s office and several police departments around the state say they don’t know of any arrests that have been made for unemployment fraud.
Cybersecurity experts say that most of the bogus claims, which are made using Ohioans’ stolen personal information, are filed by thieves from other countries, such as Nigeria. That, of course, makes it far more difficult for U.S. authorities to bring them to justice.
However, an increasing number of people in the U.S. have been caught committing unemployment fraud – likely because they read media reports about the overseas fraud, according to Parker Crucq, a senior intelligence analyst with Recorded Future, a Massachusetts-based cybersecurity firm.
In California, dozens of people have been arrested for using identity theft to scam their state’s unemployment system. In the city of Beverly Hills alone, 34 people were discovered with cash and stolen unemployment debit cards worth $2.5 million, according to a local media report from last September.
Ohioans have the option to file a police report with local law enforcement regarding their identity theft if they want to, Betti stated.
But there has been no clear understanding about what Ohio law enforcement’s role in combatting the fraud is supposed to be.
What police departments in Ohio do with reports of unemployment fraud they receive varies widely depending on the department. Often, local authorities simply pass the report on until it ends up in the hands of the U.S. Department of Labor.
ODJFS’ unemployment fraud website refers visitors to the Ohio attorney general’s office’s identity fraud page. That page encouraged identity fraud victims to “immediately contact your local police department or sheriff’s office and file a police report,” and includes a form for victims to submit to the AG’s identity theft unit.
In Kettering, a suburb of Dayton, the Dayton Daily News reports that police have received so many reports of unemployment fraud that they refer people back to the AG’s office.
But attorney general spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said that all unemployment fraud reports received by the AG’s office are sent over to ODJFS — which then, in turn, sends them to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Cleveland police forward unemployment fraud cases directly to ODJFS, stated Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, a spokeswoman, in an email.
Betti said that ODJFS will soon issue more specifics for law enforcement agencies on what they should do with unemployment fraud reports.
In the meantime, Ohio law-enforcement agencies that want to verify that a claim has been flagged for fraud or want to partner with the Department of Labor in investigating a report of fraud should contact the benefit payment control section of ODJFS’ Office of Unemployment Insurance Operations, Betti stated.