Illinois Unemployment Fraud: Scammers Targeting the Illinois State Department of Employment Security; officials say they are better prepared now

Internet criminals who stole nearly $1.9 billion in federal money earmarked for unemployed Illinois residents during the COVID-19 pandemic are bragging online about how they are still selling stolen personal information and fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits.

That’s what a Georgia State University professor discovered recently in the dark corners of the Internet, where he monitors criminals who commit unemployment insurance fraud and other scams against government agencies.

Criminology professor David Maimon says he often sees Illinois credit and debit account numbers for sale online, along with fake Illinois driver’s licenses and advertisements for “tuts” – slang for online tutorials on how to commit fraud.

One user bragged about getting $354 weekly unemployment benefits from Illinois in May.

David Maimon, a criminology professor who says he often sees Illinois credit and debit account numbers for sale online, as well as fake Illinois driver’s licenses and advertisements for “tuts” – slang for online tutorials on how to commit fraud.

“We see many identities, many bank accounts, many driver’s licenses associated with Illinois residents” for sale on the dark web, Maimon says.

Illinois officials — stung by an audit released in June that found flaws in the state’s administration of two federal pandemic unemployment programs — say that, despite the onslaught, they are now ready for the bad guys.

Since the widespread fraud problems of 2020 and 2021, which the Illinois Department of Employment Security blamed on the rushed rollout of federal pandemic relief programs, the state has beefed up its security systems and joins a multi-state group that shares information about fraudsters applying for benefits. in more than one place, says Kristin Richards, director of Governor JB Pritzker’s IDES.

“We have multiple layers of security in place,” Richards says of the new system.

Kristin Richards, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Kristin Richards, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Auditor General Frank J. Mautino’s June report found that, from July 2020 to June 2021, the department suffered “unprecedented” fraud under the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, which offered up to 39 weeks of temporary unemployment benefits to workers, including the self-employed. employees and gig workers.

The audit found that about $1.9 billion of the $3.6 billion paid out under the federal program was lost to scammers, mostly due to identity theft. .

The program, along with another federal program that paid $600 in weekly unemployment benefits to those who qualified, expired last September, turning off a major tap for scammers.

This screenshot of an online advertisement found by an Internet crime researcher at Georgia State University offers a

This screenshot of an online ad found by a Georgia State University internet crime researcher offers a “tut,” or tutorial, on how to commit unemployment fraud in Illinois.

Illinois was one of many states where scammers stole money from federal programs. Fraud was easier to commit because scammers could lie and say they were self-employed. Nationally, approximately $163 billion was lost.

Since then, IDES has moved to new login software that includes “identity verification,” multi-factor authentication, and fraud analysis, Richards says. The department also performs additional data analysis using Pondera Solutions, a private data company owned by Thompson Reuters, and works with the National Association of State Workforce Agencies to flag suspicious filers operating in more than one state.

Haywood Talcove, government enterprise managing director of LexisNexis Risk Solutions and a critic of Illinois’ anti-fraud methods, said Illinois could reduce its rate of “abusive payments” – which, according to the US Department of Labor , averaged 16.65% from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2021 – to around 5% if it had even tighter controls.

Talcove says having more data in multiple layers could point to, say, a small ranch house used by a few dozen requesters. Or an applicant who offers a work history that doesn’t make sense because he was in jail in another state at the time.

“They claim it’s fixed, and I’m telling you, it’s not fixed,” Talcove says of the state system.

IDES’ Richards and Adam Ford, director of information security for the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology, however, say they believe their back-end analytics are strong enough “to weed out all the claims for fraudulent features”.

Ford says the new system takes into account many other data points, such as geographic information, device types, IP addresses, and more.

But he says people should always be wary of giving out their personal details, even seemingly innocuous facts asked by social media quizzes.

“The public generally has no idea how much information is out there,” Ford says.

Richards won’t comment on the online post bragging about stealing Illinois unemployment benefits, except to say it’s possible the image was stolen from elsewhere online and reused by a scammer.

Illinois’ unemployment insurance mispayment rate of 16.65% was better than some other states, such as Virginia, which has a rate of 38%, Tennessee, with 37%, and Florida. , with 35%.

But Illinois has lagged behind states like Hawaii and Utah, which have each seen about 5% of their unemployment money reported as abuse payments.

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