CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training announced Sunday it is unfreezing “a multitude” of claims that were being held as part of an ongoing federal fraud investigation.
Angelika Pellegrino, a spokesperson for the department, told WPRI 12 in an email, “the claims had been frozen in response to reports of imposter fraud that threatened both benefit recipients and Rhode Island’s [unemployment insurance] trust fund in the wake of COVID-19.”
“As part of the ongoing investigation by law enforcement, the Department will employ intensified anti-fraud measures,” she wrote. “Our job is to get Rhode Islanders the help they need and protect program integrity, and we continue to work relentlessly to achieve both goals.”
Earlier this month, Target 12 reported that an undisclosed number of Rhode Islanders had seen their jobless benefits come to an unexpected halt because of an ongoing federal investigation into unemployment fraud.
Susan Izzi Desrosiers, who’s been collecting unemployment for weeks after being laid off as a massage therapist, said her payments abruptly stopped last week.
“I live paycheck to paycheck,” she said, adding that she didn’t know what she would do if the payments didn’t start again by June 1. “I’m pinching pennies, to be honest with you.”
As of May 5, the DLT said it had received roughly 2,000 complaints from people who claimed their identities were unlawfully being used to file false unemployment claims. (The DLT has since declined to update that figure, citing an ongoing investigation.)
Many Rhode Islanders learned of the fraud after receiving letters in the mail outlining unemployment benefits they hadn’t applied for.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported federal authorities believe a group of international fraudsters have mounted an “immense, sophisticated attack on U.S. unemployment systems.” While the newspaper reports that Washington State appears to be the primary target, evidence shows other states, including Rhode Island, have also fallen victim.
Desrosiers said her social security number was stolen back in 2018, but she isn’t sure if that is linked to her current issue.
“It’s very scary to think that somebody has access to anybody’s account, let alone little Rhode Island,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Boston bureau of the FBI declined to comment Sunday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Those who suspect they are a victim of unemployment fraud should email DLT at email@example.com. Rhode Islanders may also contact the State Police Financial Crimes Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or the FBI’s Providence Field Office at (401) 272-8310.
Those whose accounts have been frozen should fill out this form.