The flood of reports filed with Brookfield police concerning unemployment compensation fraud that started in January reached into February.
They even reached into the department as township Fiscal Officer Dena McMullen received a notice Feb. 5 from the state asking her to complete a separation from employment form in the name of Police Chief Dan Faustino.
The chief, who recently passed his 30th anniversary with the department, said he’s not going anywhere.
Another member of the department recently received paperwork concerning unemployment benefits that he did not apply for, Faustino said.
“We’re getting a bunch of them, so no one’s exempt from it, as you can tell,” he said.
The police department has received more than 30 reports from residents who said they had received tax forms for unemployment they never applied for or debit cards, or had been contacted by state officials over pending claims. Statewide, the number of victims could number in the hundreds of thousands, Attorney General Dave Yost said.
Sometimes, the identity thefts go beyond fraudulent unemployment claims. Victim Karen Wallace of Brookfield said she knows of a man who not only received an employment spending card that had no balance, but that someone had applied for a loan under his name.
“It’s just unfortunate, during a pandemic, that people took advantage of the system like this,” she said.
Wallace, who is retired, learned of the fraud against her when she received a W2 for more than $11,000 in unemployment compensation for which she had not applied. The W2 came with a form that said that, if she had not received the unemployment stated in the W2, then to go to unemploymentohio.gov to start the reporting process, which she did, she said.
“I ended up getting called back by the attorney general’s office,” Wallace said. “And then, I had to file another form that Ohio Job and Family Services put out, for fraud for getting unemployment, since I didn’t get it.”
The form was confusing, so she called to ask how she was to fill it out, she said.
“They put out a new form and they sent me the link to that,” Wallace said.
“You just have to go where they tell you to go and fill out whatever forms,” she said. “You could go as far as to notify all your creditors, which we didn’t do that. We’ve just been watching.”
Wallace notified the credit reporting agency Experian to withhold her credit information unless she approves its release, and is monitoring her credit card statements, looking for unauthorized purchases.
“I wonder where the leak was, with the Social Security numbers,” she said. “There had to have been a breach somewhere, because they actually got Social Security numbers and addresses.”
Brookfield police were inundated with reports of alleged unemployment compensation fraud in January and the first part of February, Brookfield Police Chief Dan Faustino said.
“You don’t get too many,” he said of the frequency of such reports.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the number of victims of unemployment compensation fraud might be in the hundreds of thousands in Ohio, and he has asked Congress to provide a “safe harbor” to shield people from having to pay taxes on their unemployment benefits until their claims of identity fraud are investigated.
Faustino took a report Jan. 26 from a Brookfield woman who said she received an IRS Form 1099G that claimed she had received $8,736 in unemployment benefits in 2020 – benefits she never applied for. The woman had already filed a report with Ohio Job and Family Services and a copy of her Brookfield police report would be forwarded to the attorney general.
The next day, another woman reported she received a 1099G in the amount of $11,235.
Another resident, an 85-year-old woman, was “distraught, fearing she many get into financial trouble with the government.”
Faustino said he has offered his department to assist any investigation, but the lead has to be taken by the state.
“The state has everything on who filed,” Faustino said. “They’re the ones with resources.”
Sometimes, the investigations need to cross state borders. A Masury woman reported Jan. 14 that someone had used her personal information to file for benefits in Texas, police said.
“These people, they can be in Hermitage, they can be in Turkey,” Faustino said of the fraud perpetrators.
All told, police received 14 reports of unemployment compensation fraud, starting the first week of January. A Masury woman reported Jan. 12 that she had received two debit cards for unemployment benefits under her name, but had not applied for them.
Yost said he does not know the scope of the problem, but that a “significant amount” of the 1.7 million 1099Gs sent out in January were to people who did not file for or receive unemployment. Other states are reporting similar problems, he said.
There is enough evidence of fraud that the federal government should suspend tax collection efforts until reportedly fraudulent claims are investigated, Yost said.