Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina voters aren't the only ones who will soon have to present photo identification.
State officials said Wednesday that, as of Feb. 1, anyone seeking unemployment benefits will have to present a photo ID in a face-to-face meeting within four weeks of filing a claim.
The current system lets people file for jobless benefits either online or by telephone, but Assistant Commerce Secretary Dale Folwell, who heads the Division of Employment Security, said there's been a growing number of fraudulent claims by people using someone else's name or Social Security number.
Identity theft among jobless claims is a problem both for those whose personal information is stolen and for the state, Folwell said, noting his agency has paid out money in hundreds of fraudulent cases.
When the state goes after those people's tax refunds to try to get the money back, innocent people end up with the bill, he said.
"We're sending people money back that we took from their tax refunds – not just inside North Carolina but places like Texas and Wyoming who'd never been to this state, never been unemployed in this state," he said. "Someone stole their ID, and when we went to get that overpayment back, then it was taken from somebody who'd never been to North Carolina."
Several other states already require a photo ID for benefits – the U.S. Department of Labor has approved the practice – and Folwell noted that people have to have a photo ID to get a job and get off benefits because employers require it.
"If that is a condition for employment, it probably should be a condition for unemployment too," he said.
Some people receiving unemployment benefits said requiring a photo ID is a commonsense approach.
"You shouldn't give out money to random people," Chanel Marshall said.
Connie Parker said people need an ID for many other activities, but she said she wonders how people who don't have a driver's license will manage.
"Especially if they have to come down here to get their ID," Parker said. "When you're unemployed, money is tight, and that's gas money, depending upon where you live."
Folwell said the state will also start cracking down on job searches in February.
People receiving unemployment benefits are required to look for work, but the state doesn't always verify what they report. Under the new rules, people receiving benefits will have to provide much more detail about their search efforts, and officials will check up on it.