MURPHYSBORO (WSIL) -- At a time when the economic slowdown associated with COVID-19 is spiking unemployment claims, lawmakers are getting reports of scammers obtaining personal information and using it to fraudulently cash in on benefits.
State Representative Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said, in the last three days, her office and other lawmakers have fielded about a dozen new complaints of scammers taking advantage of the Illinois Department of Employment Security's unemployment system.
Bryant said they tell her a similar story, that someone has obtained their personal information and filed a claim, or the scammers used what's called "synthetic identities," taking bits and pieces of multiple people to create a fake person to file a claim.
"I got another note from someone who told me that an individual had accessed her unemployment information and made changes on that information," Bryant said.
Bryant said her office in Murphysboro is fielding unemployment inquiries from people who saw her number on what appears to be a "fake blogger" site that lists IDES numbers and her office number for some unknown reason.
"So we're getting calls from all over the state," Bryant said. "They tell us they're receiving a letter that they have been approved for unemployment benefits, and they'll begin to receive those benefits."
Bryant said the callers not only said they didn't apply for benefits, but they're not unemployed.
"In two cases, the employers notified the individuals," Bryant said.
Bryant said in each case they're ask to call IDES to report fraud:
Phone Number: (877) 566-6230
Fax Number: (312) 793-2356
Illinois Relay: (800) 526-0844 TTY or 711
Illinois Relay: (800) 526-0857 Voice or 711
Bryant said she runs the cases up the governor's office and IDES officials. She wants non-partisan hearings on the matter to get answers.
"Right now you're being asked online to give a lot of your personal information, and that's the way we have to do some business right now. So it's fertile ground for scammers," Bryant said.
It's unclear if these new reports are linked to the recent data breach from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, through the state's new system.
The state described that as a glitch where just one claimant unintentionally viewed the data of a handful of other claimants.
When it was announced, the state identified 32,483 claimants whose information could have been possibly viewed. The information could include names, social security numbers, and street addresses.
"We're still trying to figure out how large that breach was," Bryant said. "I'm maintaining it's impossible that one person saw it considering how easy it was to get on that site for a person who wasn't a hacker."
The state is offering a free year of credit monitoring and identity protection.
"The unemployment system was created with built-in safety nets to detect, stop, and pursue those who commit fraud, including cross-matching claimant information against wage records," IDES said in a statement. IDES also uses a system to cross reference with other states.
The demand for benefits is high. According to Illinois figures, statewide unemployment is at 16.9 percent and the Carbondale-Marion Metro area is at 17.1 percent.
Complaints about IDES inefficiency continue to plaque the system as people experience excessive hotline wait times, website glitches and other technical problems.
"Yesterday we talked one person who was crying, and she had called IDES 150 times and still can't get a human on the phone and could I help," Bryant said.
Bryant continues to try to help her constituents who are experiencing trouble.
This spring, Governor Pritzker announced changes to IDES, including a new call center and nearly 200 more agents to process claims.
Bryant said many of those new agents didn't receive enough training which added to the problem.
Filers who qualify for state unemployment, are also eligible for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through July. That is extra weekly cash for people who are unemployed, on top of the state money they receive. Congressional leaders have signaled they don't want to extend the program.