GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Unemployed Ohio workers whose benefits were stolen by cybercriminals will be able to ask for their funds to be replaced starting Friday, according to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
An account takeover occurs when a criminal gains unauthorized access to a legitimate claimant's account and changes the banking information to reroute benefits away from the victim, according to a news release from ODJFS.
“Our goal is to ensure victims of account takeovers are made whole,” said ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder. “In addition, over the past six months we have implemented a number of anti-fraud measures to reduce the likelihood of account takeovers and other criminal attempts to commit fraud against the system.”
How to apply for help
Ohioans who were victims of unemployment account takeovers can begin requesting a funds replacement starting Friday by calling 1-877-644-6562, according to the news release. This request will initiate the process and send an affidavit to the individual, asking them to indicate on which weeks they didn't receive funds. The affidavit must then be signed in the presence of a licensed notary public and returned to ODJFS by email, fax or U.S. mail. A scan or clear photograph of the notarized affidavit will suffice for email submissions.
Once received, ODJFS staff will individually review and adjudicate each requested of reimbursement, the release states. Once a determination is made, individuals will be notified of the decision, and, if approved, restitution will be made. If denied, ODJFS will provide information on how to appeal the decision. At this time, officials with the department do not have an estimate on how long it will take to process these requests.
'A difficult process'
"Knowing unemployment - it’s going to be a difficult process," Denise Williams said. Williams said she was the victim of Account Takeover in April. She said cyber criminals stole more than $4000 in benefits from her Ohio unemployment account.
"When it happened, they told me there was nothing they could do, the claims had been paid out," Williams said. After 5 On Your Side Investigators shared her story and demanded answers from ODJFS, Damschroder announced plans to set up the reimbursement applications system in July.
Wiliams said the cyber theft couldn't have come at a worse time. Her son, Derrick, died in December. "I was distraught," she said. "So then, when this happened, I couldn’t take anymore. “ She said the ATO theft and paying for her son's funeral depleted her savving account.
Since then, Williams said she has worked part-time at a pizza shop and was recently hired for a full-time job. She starts Monday.
"It's comforting to know I’m going to have that cushion again," she said. "At least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel."
How many victims?
It remains unclear how many unemployed workers had their benefits stolen through Account Takeovers.
ODJFS also reaching out to 3,100 claimants with account activity that suggests it may have been taken over. They will be sent a notification that asks them to review their accounts, to make sure they have been paid what was expected, and will be sent instructions on the restitution process to apply if they feel they're the victim of an account takeover.
ODJFS representatives noted that the 3,100 notification number is not an indicator of the number of actual account takeover victims, and their department will be tracking and reporting the number of affidavit requests and approvals once the restitution process opens.