OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Wednesday it has “mitigated” more than 64,000 fraudulent unemployment claim attempts since March 1.
Shelley Zumwalt, interim executive director, said the agency has taken numerous steps to combat the “significant rise” in fraudulent unemployment claims. Actions include implementing automatic scanning procedures that can identify potentially fraudulent activity.
Zumwalt said not all "fictitious claims" were worthy of investigation as they didn't pay out or issue a card.
“It is important to note, the fraudulent claims are not a breach of the OESC database,” Zumwalt said. “In most cases, the information used to file the fraudulent claim was stolen as a result of the Experian data breach in 2017 or one of the breaches that occurred at financial institutions in the preceding years.”
The fraudulent claims are a growing problem nationally but are causing significant headaches for Oklahomans. Over the past three months, many victims have reported receiving paperwork — and in some cases, debit cards — notifying them of unemployment claims that they didn’t apply for.
A cumbersome fraud reporting process that required victims to fill out two different forms added to the confusion, officials said.
The state’s Attorney General’s Office, which has been tasked with helping investigate the fraudulent claims, has only received a little over 12,000 complaints, spokesman Alex Gerszewski said Wednesday.
“At first, people had to fill out two forms, and they didn’t necessarily know to begin an investigation that they had to come to us or the (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation),” he said.
He said the reporting process is now streamlined to one form all agencies can use.
The Attorney General’s Office is partnering with the OSBI, the Secret Service and the federal Department of Labor to investigate and try to resolve the bogus claims, Gerszewski said.
“Some of the fraud is coming from overseas,” he said. “We’re working with the feds to investigate and try to track down leads.”
Gerszewski said the agencies’ partnership has stopped several million dollars from being obtained by those perpetuating the fraud. He said the federal agencies are better able to communicate with banks, which can flag large amounts of money.
Zumwalt said as long as victims properly report their claims as fraud, it will not affect their tax returns next year.
Those who believe they’ve been victims of a fraudulent claim can file a report by visiting http://www.oag.ok.gov/coronavirus-fraud-resources.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.