FBI probing hundreds of RI unemployment fraud claims

Politics - Government
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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Labor and Training has received hundreds of complaints of unemployment insurance fraud during the coronavirus pandemic, and the FBI is now investigating.

DLT Director Scott Jensen said the number of purportedly fraudulent accounts is keeping pace with the unprecedented number of legitimate claims for unemployment insurance, which has now reached 200,000.

“The percentage to claim number is, right now, not unexpected and in line with historical trends,” he said. “Again though, when you have 10, 20 times more claims, that number grows higher.”

On Monday, the FBI’s Boston bureau took to Twitter to announce it was investigating the allegations of fraud.

Kimberly Rau is one of the people who believes she’s fallen victim to the trend. She’s received two letters in the mail from the DLT: one telling her how to claim her benefits, and another outlining how much she’s set to receive.

The only issue — Rau never filed for unemployment.

“Somebody’s got at least some of my personal information,” Rau said, expressing her concern.

The apparently fraudulent claim was filed with Rau’s Social Security number and current address, but her former last name.

Jenson said situations like Rau’s are how some people find out their identity has been stolen. He said scammers buy the personal information online and sometimes hold onto it for months before employing it. The the extra $600 a week that people are receiving right now under the federal CARES Act is another incentive for bad actors, Jensen said.

“We and other unemployment insurance programs have been working on chasing this particular scam for years unfortunately,” he said, adding, “One case is too many, but we want to make sure that we’re not seeing a second kind of epidemic that nobody wants.”

Jensen said individuals who believe they are the victim of fraud should email dlt.investigations@dlt.ri.gov. He said his agency is partnering with the Attorney General Peter Neronha, Rhode Island State Police and the FBI. Rhode Islanders may also contact the State Police Financial Crimes Unit at financialcrimes@risp.gov or the FBI Providence Field Office at (401) 272-8310.  

(Story continues below.)

Neronha’s office tells WPRI 12 its consumer unit has received more than 70 calls from Rhode Islanders about possible fraudulent claims.

Jensen said DLT will freeze any fraudulent account once the agency is notified. He said those who have already called the DLT fraud hotline should receive calls back.

“The good news is when we say ‘victim,’ it’s the unemployment insurance trust fund that’s the real victim of this — it’s not reaching into people’s private bank accounts and taking their money,” he said.

With unemployment claims in Rhode Island averaging about $350, Jensen said fraudsters could walk away with roughly $900 a week. Multiply that by the potentially hundreds of fraudulent accounts, and Jensen calls the potential financial consequences “significant.”

While this type of fraud can be punishable by jail time, Jensen said it’s sometimes tricky to hold people accountable.

“It’s looking more and more like a pretty lucrative organized-crime kind of endeavor,” he said.

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