CLEVELAND — An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered a new round of pandemic unemployment fraud sweeping Ohio that's swindling benefits due to residents left jobless as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.
In recent weeks, debit cards providing access to unemployment benefits have been appearing in mailboxes across the state as a result of massive, nationwide data breaches by organized theft rings.
"We are seeing a significant level of activity--certainly more than we would want to see in this space," said Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson.
Ohio officials say personal data has not been obtained due to any data breach within the state's own system, but instead, everything from social security numbers to birth dates has been obtained by scammers elsewhere and used to apply for fraudulent benefits.
Ohioans often discover the fraud when they go to their mailbox and find a U.S. Bank Relia Card providing debit card access to benefits they have never applied for.
"So I opened it up," said one Ohio victim who just last week discovered a card in her mailbox.
"That's really strange--I don't even bank with U.S. Bank, why would they send me a debit card?"
U.S Bank is not responsible for the data breach but does contract with states across the country to provide legitimate access to unemployment funds with information provided by states--in many cases fraudulently.
The fraud began as earlier as last summer when an Exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation first reported cases across the country and could hit billions of dollars in fraudulently obtained benefits.
Both the U.S. Department of Labor and Secret Service are investigating.
Ohio officials say they have not determined the dollar amount of the fraud obtained by scammers and are continuing to investigate.
But while the actual amount of fraudulent benefits successfully obtained by scammers is still under review, ODJFS has identified and stopped 166,000 fraudulent claims in the Pandemic Unemployment Program and 1,900 others in traditional unemployment claims before they were actually awarded to scammers.
"We ended up in a second phase," said Henderson. "And even, I could describe a third one, so we are continuing to be very diligent about our strategies."
ODJFS has created a new web reporting tool you can access to report suspected fraud.
In addition, ODJFS says the federal pandemic unemployment program has significantly increased requirements for specific documentation by those applying for benefits to reduce potential fraud.
Meanwhile, the fraud impacts honest Ohioans waiting for pandemic unemployment assistance.
If you receive a debit card for benefits you have not applied for officials say you should immediately contact:
- U.S. Bank's Fraud Center at 877-595-6256.
- Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services at 800-686-1555.
Plus, contact credit bureaus to place a freeze on your credit.