GREENVILLE — The Darke County Chamber of Commerce held its legislative council session Thursday morning via Zoom, and the topic of the day was unemployment fraud.
Local business and law enforcement leaders joined the call to discuss the major uptick in unemployment fraud cases across the country that has been seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guest speakers at the event included Juliane Barone, Legal Chief at the Office of Unemployment Insurance Operation with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), and Bruce Madson, Senior Labor Policy Advisor at ODJFS.
Barone was prompted to begin her speech by breaking down the third federal stimulus package, known formally as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, as it relates to unemployment assistance. As a part of this package, the pandemic unemployment assistance program has been raised from 50 weeks of total benefits, to 79 total weeks. Barone also stated that traditional unemployment benefits, which are also entirely federally funded, were expanded from 24 additional weeks to up to 53 weeks, on top of the original 26 weeks of regular unemployment. All pandemic-related unemployment benefits are set to expire in Ohio on Sept. 4, 2021.
Baorne also noted that the federal government declared the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits are not taxable for 2020. Information related to this is available on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website.
As it relates to fraud, Barone reported that, within the new COVID-19 relief bill, $2 million were allocated for states to increase detection and recovery measures to combat unemployment fraud.
“Ohio looks forward to leveraging this money and continuing the good things we’re doing to work against fraud in the state,” said Barone.
The next section was reserved for question and answers. Both speakers presented statistics concerning fraudulent claims, highlighted the state’s continuing efforts to combat fraud, and spoke on how their office has made it easier for individuals and employers to directly report fraud.
Madson said it is of the utmost importance to let ODJFS or local law enforcement know as soon as you suspect fraud. The ODJFS recently established an online portal for employers to directly report fraud, and since the program went live, Madson reported, the ODJFS has received approximately 247,000 identity theft reports. Of those, 69,400 people reported receiving a fraudulent 1099-G (unemployment compensation reporting form) for benefits they hadn’t applied for. In addition, Madson continued, 13,000 Ohio employers have uploaded 44,500 records for individuals who were fraudulently reported.
“It is very important that we be notified immediately so we can ensure that we can attempt to recover any payments that have gone out, or that any payments in the process of going out can be stopped.” Madson said.
Madson noted that the widespread uptick in unemployment fraud is not a result of the unemployment system being penetrated, but rather from fraudulent individuals obtaining information on the dark web. Madson highlighted the need for Ohioans to continue being aware of where they send personal information, and who is requesting the information.
Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker spoke briefly and encouraged individuals to report instances of fraud to local law enforcement. Whittaker said the Sheriff’s Office is not likely to be able to solve these crimes, but reporting them provides necessary documentation from a independent organization in event than an individual’s credit score is lowered. Whittaker recommended Darke County residents contact the law enforcement in the area where they permanently reside.
Barone and Madson thanked Whittaker and other local law enforcement agencies for their continued partnership in combating these issues.
If you or someone you know believe to be a victim of fraud, visit jfs.ohio.gov/fraud/ and contact your local law enforcement agency immediately. For more information about the Darke County Chamber of Commerce, visit www.darkecountyohio.com or call the office at 937-548-2120.