MAINE, USA — The Maine Department of Labor say it's received roughly 1000 reports of unemployment claim fraud in an effort to investigate and stop identity theft.
The MDOL has already identified and canceled more than 2,200 claims that were determined to be fraud. These growing numbers are causing the department to take swift action. This week, the MDOL will be pausing benefits for 48 hours. It will also revert back to its normal 10-14 day processing time for initial unemployment claims. That had been previously been reduced to seven days due to a surge in claims during the pandemic.
MDOL commissioner Laura Fortmann said in a statement "The Department of Labor takes our responsibility to defend the integrity of Maine’s unemployment seriously and we will continue to work closely with state and federal law enforcement officers to prevent, identify, and rectify cases of fraud wherever they occur."
An investigation is underway into these fraudulent claims. It is being led by the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General and U.S. Secret Service at the Federal level. The Maine Department of Labor is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, Maine State Police, Maine State Treasurer, U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI as part of the investigation.
State Senator Shenna Bellows is the chair of the legislative committee on labor and housing. She says this an issue that has to be resolved quickly.
"This is a huge, huge problem and we have to fix it. We have to bring the criminals to justice, and we have to get Mainers back on their feet," said Bellows.
One of the roughly 1000 Mainers to report an issue of unemployment claim fraud is Westbrook resident John Thibault. He says he's received two letters from the MDOL stating that his claim has been processed and payment has been initiated, however he never for unemployment. He's an instructor at Southern Maine Community College and has stayed employed through the pandemic.
"If this happening to me, it’s probably happening to other people, and state is losing a lot of money," said Thibault.
Thibault adds that he's been taking precautions to protect his identity. He's spoken with his employer, registered a report with the MDOL, reviewed his credit report, and reported a fraud alert on his credit card. He says these actions are essential to further protecting his identity.
"If you’ve got that instinct that something’s wrong, check it out and make sure that you take preventative cause," said Thibault.
It's not clear just how much money has been issued by the MDOL as part of fraudulent unemployment claims, however, it estimates that it could be in the millions based on reports from other states.
"This is theft not only of taxpayer dollars but it’s really a huge crime committed against every American struggling right now," said Bellows.
Bellows urges all who believe they may be a victim of unemployment claim fraud to make a report to the Maine Department of Labor by visiting maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft.
If you believe someone has stolen your identity, you can also report that on the federal level by visiting identitytheft.gov.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus.
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