FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, identity theft related to unemployment benefits has been on the rise.
This common scam and fraudulent act has hit close to home. WANE 15’s Digital Executive Producer Aaron Organ has fallen victim to this crime. For the past month, he has received nearly 10 letters from the Indiana Department of Workforce (DWD). All of the letters have his address but not his name.
“Whenever you get a letter that’s not addressed to you, you wonder ‘what the heck is this?’,” Organ said. “I asked my wife ‘what do you think this is?’ We didn’t think anything of them.”
This week, though, we found that the letters are actually billing notices for overpayment of unemployment compensation. One of the letters stated “Our records reveal an outstanding balance of an unemployment compensation overpayment in the amount of $4,939.00.” Others were for $5,388.
The letters go on to say that the DWD will refer the debt to the United States Department of Treasury and the Indiana Department of Revenue to block any state and federal tax returns.
Collectively, the letters total to nearly $16,000. And there were several more that the Organs never opened and instead sent back to the Department of Workforce Development marked “return to sender.”
“Thankfully I haven’t had to file for unemployment, so [you know], if this is going to impact me or if they think I am going to have to pay for this money, or [you know], put a lien on my property or something like that, that is a concern for me,” Organ said.
Organ and his family have lived at their current address for nearly five years and after researching tax records, he confirmed that none of the people named in the letters ever lived at his address. After learning about the situation, WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee reached out to the Department of Workforce for answers.
A spokesperson said, frankly: “It sounds like this could be some sort of fraud issue.”
Organ also called the DWD and a representative told him “with the unemployment and the pandemic, there has been a lot of identify theft and fraud.”
The representative explained that Organ will have to file a state police report and a report with the DWD. She warned that with so many open investigations, it will be a slow process for his case.
“Now I’ve got to dedicate time and energy in filing these reports,” Organ said. “There’s about 100 million things I rather be doing than sitting here filing a report. Frustration is a good way to describe this.”
On Friday, the officials with the Indiana Department of Workforce held a press conference regarding the update on unemployment benefits.
During the briefing, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne said Organ’s case was not uncommon.
In fact, it was downright personal for him.
“An unfortunate but yet familiar character, that’s fraud,” said Fred Payne, Indiana Workforce’s Commissioner. “You’ll likely know someone who has been a victim of unemployment insurance identity theft. Right now you are looking at one. Someone used my information to file for unemployment insurance benefits. Imagine how I felt when I found out someone used my information.”
Payne said he is amazed at the scope and persistence of those who commit fraud. He added that the state implemented a variety of measures to block and avoid the fraudulent acts. Indiana beefed up its identity verification process in the summer of 2020, yet 27% of those who tired to verify their identity was later proved to be fraudulent.
The DWD advises if you believe you are a victim of fraud to file a police report and file a report. Click here to read more.