5 On Your Side

Doubly victimized: Unemployment fraud victims told to repay money they never got

Posted January 19, 2021 6:11 p.m. EST
Updated January 20, 2021 3:09 p.m. EST

— Victims of fraudulent unemployment claims tell 5 On Your Side that the Division of Employment Security is now asking them to repay money collected in their name.

Last month, WRAL’s Monica Laliberte shared how she and WRAL’s Brian Shrader both had unemployment claims filed in their names.

They both took necessary steps to report it, and say they felt assured DES handled it.

But Shrader and a WRAL-TV viewer who was victim of fraud learned that wasn’t the case.

"Now I get the bill and have to prove yet again that it’s all fraud," said Shrader. "They say I’m on the hook for $1,610."

Shrader received two letters from DES, mailed the same day, both alerting him that he owes money after receiving benefits to which he was not entitled.

"When you go on the website and fill out all of the stuff to report the fraud, you assume this is going to be dealt with, and clearly, that’s not how it works," said Shrader.

"I’m not paying back money that I didn’t receive," said Shelby Barbour.

The Rougemont resident reported similar fraud to DES in November.

In December, she got a letter saying she owes $2,012.50.

"Wouldn’t you have some kind of flag on my name saying, you know, fraud alert?" she wondered.

Barbour called DES and says she was told to do nothing, that the letter was sent by another department that doesn’t know she has an open fraud investigation.

A week later, she followed up and was told to file an appeal.

"Nobody’s on the same page because they’ve all told me something different," said Barbour. "I contacted you because I need help with this because I’m not getting the help I need through DES, to get this settled."

So far, Laliberte has not received the you owe letter, but the experiences of Shrader, Barbour and others raise new concern.

5 On Your Side reached out to DES Assistant Secretary Pryor Gibson for a response.

Spokeswoman Kerry McComber emailed saying "We do not have availability for an interview."

McComber said DES sent the letters in error and that anyone who’s a victim of fraud, of course, does not have to repay.

While that’s reassuring, it’s doesn’t eliminate the frustration victims have already been through.

When 5 On Your Side talked with Gibson in December for the previous story, he said fraud is a challenge.

"The Governor and Attorney General have been very clear on all this: get benefits out to anybody who deserves them, turn the fraud filter as tightly as you can without hindering those benefits going to folks. But it’s a balancing act that sometimes we don’t get completely right, but we sure work on it every day." said Gibson.

After 5 On Your Side reached out, and after Shrader wrote, faxed and emailed the appeal as instructed, and sent an email to the DES Benefits Integrity Department, he got a reply saying he does not have to follow through with the appeals process, and that the account was "moved out" of the system.

He hopes this time it really is case closed.

Barbour filed her appeal and is still waiting.

"I hope this is a lesson for that agency," said Shrader. "Think about how much taxpayer money is being spent through fraud."

"I want the state to do better with their checks and balances," said Barbour. "I know they got a lot going on and a lot of people filing, but this is very scary and unfair to the people that do everything right."

The part many find unbelievable is that fraudulent claims were paid without employers first being contacted to verify legitimacy.

If this happens to you, report it to DES, law enforcement, the FTC and freeze your credit.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.