By Dee Longfellow

FOR THE ELMHURST INDEPENDENT

Readers may have noticed there have recently been a rash of incidents known by police as, “Unemployment benefits identity theft.”

Record numbers of Illinoisans have filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. On the flip side, however, hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois—among them Elmhurst residents—have fallen victim to fraudulent unemployment claims through the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

According to the Elmhurst Police Reports, since Aug. 4, there were 372 incidents of identify theft for purposes of fraudulently applying for unemployment benefits. Just recently—in the reports received the week of Dec. 22—there were 94 incidents. And that is just in Elmhurst.

Elmhurst Police Chief Michael Ruth said incidents were running pretty rampant not only in Illinois, but also throughout the nation.

“What we’re seeing is more applications for unemployment benefits and that’s where they have personal identifiers, they know where the person works, then they file an unemployment claim,” Ruth explained. “The state of Illinois is supposed to verify. They’re expected to call the company and make sure the person once worked there and is, in fact, now unemployed.

“We don’t know the common thread for that. We don’t know how to track [whether that’s being done or not].”

The IDES said that as of late November, more than 212,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment had been filed since March 1.

IDES acting director Kristin Richards, told NBC Channel 5 News that the IDES has been experiencing fraud “in an order of magnitude we’ve never seen before.”

“Our detectives have worked a series of cases and we’ve been tracking down IP addresses and have shared them with federal authorities,” Ruth said. “We want to provide good service to our community and want to assure people are treated properly. Then we follow up and share our findings with federal investigators.

“I’m not sure that it’s all about gaining additional benefits; these are individuals who are just victimizing many different people across the board, across the state and across the nation. It doesn’t do anybody any good. And it only takes a quick phone call to an employer to find out whether or not that person is still employed.”

Asked if the surge in people trying to unlawfully take advantage of unemployment claims was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that so many people are unemployed and perhaps quite desperate for money. Ruth didn’t really think that was the case.

“Across the board, I think we’re seeing violence increasing and that could be for multiple reasons, some, simply the views of society, and a variety of other factors,” Ruth said. “I think the public is a little more sensitive to these events now because there’s more time to keep up on things, so there’s a little more hyper-sensitivity.

“We’ve seen an uptick in violent crimes. We’re seeing more drug overdoses and an increase domestic violence cases, too, because well, everybody’s home!”

There has also been a “huge increase” in motor vehicle theft, according to Ruth.

“Motor vehicle theft has really gone up,” he said. “Simple assault-and-battery and aggravated assault-and-battery [incidents] are up as well. Percentage-wise, we normally have so few, that it looks like big jump, but it’s really not. And, robberies are actually down.”

The state, in an effort to move forward and get people their benefits, may not have been checking as diligently as they should have, Ruth said, which may have given rise to the increase in people unlawfully applying for unemployment benefits.

Victims are encouraged to contact their credit bureaus and make sure nothing has been compromised. 

If you are a victim of unemployment benefits fraud, notify the police department and it is recommended that you continue to monitor your bank accounts and credit card bills for the next few months.

Richards told NBC Channel 5 News that anyone who has been a victim of unemployment benefits fraud is not liable for any unemployment paid in their name.

Mike Sandrolini contributed to this report.

 

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