Identity theft problems with unemployment

Other states with easier to use claim-filing processes have been hit hard by identity theft issues.

Wisconsin has not seen a comparable surge in such cases. But, the problem is still happening here to some extent, and a Fox6 report indicates that it can be near impossible to fix once it happens.

Fischer filed for unemployment insurance online, as the state encourages. As a result, her banking information was in her unemployment portal. She says investigators told her the “unknown imposter or imposters” changed her banking information several times so the money would go to them.

When Fischer first reached out to FOX6, her case had been caught up in adjudication for weeks and she had been unable to access a single unemployment payment.

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After speaking to FOX6, Fischer says the state released some of her unemployment money to the correct account. However, investigators tell her it could take two years to repair the identity fraud damage. She is still in debt, and is now receiving notices that someone set up an unauthorized bank account in her name.

This kind of difficulty in getting benefits paid out after an identity theft are common.

However the identity theft happens, the Department still generally presumes you are responsible for your claim-filing until you prove otherwise. For instance, a client came to me after the Department charged him with fraud for receiving unemployment benefits under fraudulent circumstances. So, I ended up sitting across from program integrity staffers who grilled my client like he was a criminal under interrogation for claims he could not have physically received.

Department records indicated that someone other than my client changed the address to which his unemployment checks were being sent to a place where my client never lived (he was living in another city at the time). I pointed out that issue to the interrogator. This program integrity investigator, however, thought my client was in cahoots with the person who apparently stole his login credentials and wanted him to confess to a conspiracy with the unknown person who filed fake unemployment claims in my client’s name.

Note: The details of what happened — checks sent to an address where my client did not live — were known to the Department at the start. Those records indicated when address changes were made to his unemployment account (by someone pretending to be him and calling the Department up). Not until a specific request for those records did my client actually learn how the “theft” of unemployment benefits had occurred, as the Department refused to tell him why it initially was accusing him of unemployment fraud. All he knew is that he never filed the claims and never received the money from those claims.

As indicated in the Fox6 report, the Department has instituted some systems to make automated attacks more difficult. But, those preventative tactics do little to stop identity theft issues (where the login credentials are already in the possession of someone else). The Department’s main mechanism to discourage filing unemployment claims by identity theft has been to make the claim-filing system difficult to begin with. As noted in the Fox6 report, instituting some form of two-factor authentication should be a priority. But, that kind of security is, so far, not available in Wisconsin.

So for now, all Wisconsin residents need to be cautious with unemployment, even if NOT filing any claims at the moment. The Department maintains an updated list of fraud alerts. All claimants should be checking this list on a weekly basis.

Another useful tip: Always use a distinct, separate password for every on-line account you have.

Even if not filing a claim for unemployment benefits, connect to your unemployment portal or call the regular claim hot line at 414-435-7069 or 844-910-3661 or the PUA hot line at 608-318-7100 to inquire about any benefits paid in your name. For help printing out your benefit payment history from the on-line portal, see the relevant section of this post.

Finally, if you suspect someone has stolen your identity for filing an unemployment claim in your name, as soon as possible call the fraud hot line at 800-909-9472 to report that suspected identity theft.

The first of the DWD-sponsored proposals have appeared in legislation

At the 12 October 2015 Advisory Council meeting, the council gave final approval to the following proposals:

  • D15-10 — eliminating the publication of the claimant benefit tables within the statutes,
  • D15-11 — changes to circuit review review previously described here,
  • D15-12 — allowing the same protocols for unemployment taxes in regards to fiscal agents in adult care to apply to fiscal agents in child care situations, and
  • D15-13 — ending the sunset date in 2034 for the program integrity fund (i.e., the fund for receiving some of the monies from concealment enforcement) since the Department now expects concealment monies to continue in perpetuity.

Previously, the council had approved the following Department proposals:

  • D15-02 — adding the ability to issue determinations against out-of-state employers in combined wage claims for being at fault for an erroneous benefit payment to a claimant,
  • D15-03 — applying the Treasury offset program to employers, as described previously in this post, and
  • D15-07 — changes to how work share benefits are calculated so as to comply with federal requirements for work share programs.

With the legislature currently in session, these three proposals — D15-03, D15-07, and D15-02 — have appeared in bills AB416 and SB341. The legislature will most likely enact these provisions shortly.

Several Department proposals, however, remain in limbo or are still being debated. The council has extensively discussed D15-04 in regards to setting up essentially a backup insurance program for reimbursable employers who get their unemployment accounts swindled by identity fraud (and so have little to no hope of ever recovering the stolen benefits). The final recommendation from the council was for reimbursable employers to be taxed initially in order to create a fund of $1 million for covering themselves against identity fraud, essentially the second option of the three presented. Proposal D15-05 was to correct a hole in the statutes that accidentally left LLPs out of the definition of employer (see also this DWD memo on this issue). Appeals modernization, D15-06, continues to be discussed by council members. Perhaps the most significant change in this proposal — notice by Internet in place of postal mail — has NOT received any discussion of comment from council members, however. On the other hand, there has been no word on D15-09 — distinguishing able and available determinations from separation determinations — since this proposal was introduced at the 19 May 2015 council meeting. Finally, the proposed changes to the definition of concealment in D15-08 (described in this previous post) may be discussed again at subsequent council meetings.