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RI halts unemployment benefits for many amid federal fraud probe

Target 12
12 RESPONDS //
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An undisclosed number of Rhode Islanders have seen their jobless benefits frozen because of an ongoing federal investigation into unemployment fraud, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Many of those impacted have written to WPRI’s “12 Responds” service in recent days asking why their benefits never materialized this week, particularly those who receive the money on reloadable debit cards with brand names like “GreenDot” and “Chime.”

“Where is this week’s unemployment benefits for those with online bank accounts or prepaid accounts?” asked one viewer, Erica.

Others who use traditional bank accounts have also reported a stoppage.

Target 12 has learned that many people who were previously getting paid their weekly benefits are now having their claims scrutinized by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training after it was revealed thousands of people had their identities stolen and used to file fake unemployment claims.

On Monday, DLT spokesperson Angelika Pellegrino said 2,000 people have claimed they were victims of identity theft, but on Thursday said she couldn’t provide an updated number because of the ongoing investigation. 

The probe is being handled by the FBI, R.I. State Police and Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Aaron Weisman’s office.

Jim Martin, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney, declined to comment.

Pellegrino said individuals who have not gotten their benefits this week should fill out a form on this newly launched website to inform DLT.

“DLT is committed to its obligation to provide UI claimants their entitled benefits in a timely fashion,” Pellegrino said.

She said if someone believes they are a victim of unemployment fraud, they should email DLT here: dlt.investigations@dlt.ri.gov

Many have also written into “12 Responds” claiming the DLT call center is closed and they cannot get through with questions or issues.

Pellegrino said the call center is closed on Wednesdays so employees who normally staff the phones can help process payments. She said the center also continues to experience a flood of calls, and asked people who do have access to a computer to try and deal with their issue online, adding that call center operators are unable to provide a claim status over the phone.

She asked that people only call in if they need to use the phone system to apply for jobless benefits, or if they have been instructed to do so.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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