WRAL Investigates

5 On Your Side Investigates: NC pays out millions in fraudulent unemployment claims

Posted September 15, 2020 6:05 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2020 7:44 p.m. EDT

— Over payments, non-payment and fraudulent payments – Many North Carolinians have shared concerns about the payment processes at the Division of Employment Security.

5 On Your Side Investigates learned fraudsters have already cashed in on almost $2 million in taxpayer money.

Monica Laliberte looked into the fraud after hearing from people who are working saying they were notified that unemployment claims were filed in their name.

Vickie Yandle emailed about a letter she received from DES with her "… name and social security number on it."

Considering she’s still employed, she’s concerned.

So was Samantha Wilson.

"It makes me mad because somebody dropped the ball," said Wilson.

Adding to Wilson’s frustration this summer, the roadblocks she hit when she contacted DES trying to stop the fraudulent claim filed in her name.

"It’s essentially taxpayer money," she said. "The bigger picture here is how many claims are being fraudulently filed and how much money is North Carolina losing."

The answer is startling.

More than $1,680,000 paid out between April 1 and June 30. Third quarter numbers aren’t yet available.

"That’s a lot of money," admits Assistant Secretary for Employment Security Pryor Gibson.

He tells 5 On Your Side the amount includes $550,000 in state unemployment benefits, $140,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – which helps independent contractors and self-employed workers – and $1 million in federal pandemic unemployment compensation – the added $600 from the U.S. government.

North Carolina approved eligibility and issued the payments.

Gibson tells WRAL the backlog from earlier this summer complicated things.

"When you have that big a backlog and you’re trying to get to the front door fire, sometimes you don’t pay attention to the fire burning at the back door," said Gibson.

Adding to the struggles, he says, are the number of new programs now paying benefits.

"Quite frankly, they scare our fraud folks because some of the programs, the tests for fraud were invented after they got put in," said Gibson.

A number of new measures are now in place to fight the fraud, including a multi-state database of known and potentially fraudulent claims and a hotline that helps expedite problems.

"By this time next week, I think we will have tripled our fraud investigation force," said Gibson. "We wake up every morning working on it. Any fraud is too much fraud."

Gibson points out the agency recovered more than $400,000 in fraud payments during the time period in question, noting since the pandemic started DES has paid out nearly $7.7 billion in claims.

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