BOSTON — Since the pandemic started, almost every state in the country has been hit by unemployment fraud.
In July, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance revealed 58,000 fraudulent claims had been detected, preventing the loss of $158 million. At the time, the Department of Labor said that it was working with the state and federal law enforcement to investigate the fraud, and hired a private accounting to perform a forensic audit.
But 25 Investigates has found evidence that fake unemployment claims are on the rise once again in Massachusetts, and this time the scammers appear to be targeting public employees.
Investigative reporter Ted Daniel found that over the past few weeks fraudsters have used the names of hundreds, possibly thousands, of state and municipal employees to try to cash in on unemployment benefits.
“The amount they were trying to get off of my union was crazy,” Kevin McGovern, a high school teacher in Mansfield, told 25 Investigates. “It was like $3,000 or something.”
McGovern, who lives in Needham but is employed in Mansfield, said someone filed two separate unemployment claims in his name, without his knowledge or permission - one for his teaching job and another for his position as the Grievance Chairperson with his union.
“They were trying to get both and collect full unemployment amounts off of them,” he added.
He reported the fraud to the state Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) and to the Needham police department.
A review of Needham police logs shows at least 108 people have filed similar complaints since the end of September. But the problem extends well beyond Needham. 25 Investigates pored over police logs in surrounding towns and found reports of unemployment fraud in 23 communities in the greater Boston area.
More than 550 city workers have been targeted, including firefighters and teachers in Worcester. In Hopkinton, the list includes the town manager and the superintendent of schools.
“I think there is a second wave,” said Dan Lohrmann, a cybersecurity expert who previously held jobs in state government, referring to the latest round of fake claims being filed across the nation. “Certainly at the end of September and early October, we seem to be getting worse in some states.”
Lohrmann says public employees, like teachers, are easy targets for scammers or criminal networks because their names, job titles and salaries are public record and often found online. That information, he says, can be easily copied into an unemployment claim.
“I think [states] are stopping a lot of fraud. Unfortunately, the system is overwhelmed. And it’s impacting both people who are legitimately requesting unemployment benefits and those who are being victims of the crime,” he said.
We sent the DUA multiple emails for this story asking if the number of fraud reports has gone up recently and also asked what the Secretary of Labor Rosalin Acosta is doing to fight the problem. Our questions were not answered, but a spokesperson told us in a statement: “Additional updates related to unemployment fraud data will be released once the forensic audit is complete. Individuals who believe they may have had a false unemployment claim filed using their identity are urged to utilize the Department of Unemployment Assistance fraud contact form at mass.gov/unemployment-fraud or to call the DUA customer service department at 877-626-6800.”
“I’m just curious as to, you know, if my Social Security has been compromised? I don’t think it has, but it is very unsettling,” said McGovern, the Mansfield teacher, who was a victim of the latest scam.
Unemployment fraud is identify fraud. Victims should immediately report a fake claim to DUA. A fraud form can be found right on their website.
It is also a good idea to notify financial institutions and credit agencies that your personal information has been compromised.
The email exchange below shows Boston 25 has made an attempt to reach out to the DUA:
From: Daniel, Ted (CMG-Boston)
Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:59 AM
To: Pearce, Charles (EOLWD) <email@example.com>
Cc: Alulema, Patricia (CMG-Boston) <Patricia.Alulema@boston25.com>
Subject: FW: Boston 25 News Inquiry - UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE FRAUD - On Deadline
We are working on a story airing tomorrow about unemployment fraud in Massachusetts.
As my producer Patricia explained in her recent email to you (below), we have seen an increase in people reporting to us that their identities have been used to try and create illegitimate PUA accounts. Several Police Departments we have spoken with confirm a similar uptick in reporting. Many of the cases involve municipal employees.
If there is an increase in this criminal activity, we feel we have a duty to share that information with our viewers. We found reporting from other states where this information is being shared.
- Can you please tell me, even anecdotally, if there has been an increase in the number of people reporting unemployment fraud since the initial wave in the spring/early summer?
- You referenced a forensic audit in your email to Patricia, can you please tell us when the audit began, who’s performing it, and the projected timeline of competition?
- Did Governor Baker or Secretary Rosalin Acosta institute any security changes or upgrades after the first wave of unemployment fraud?
We would be happy to speak on-camera with Sec Acosta if that can be arranged.
I know you are busy and we appreciate your time!
From: Pearce, Charles (EOL) [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 3:07 PM
To: Alulema, Patricia (CMG-Boston) <Patricia.Alulema@boston25.com>
Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: Boston 25 News Inquiry - UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE FRAUD - On Deadline
Additional updates related to unemployment fraud data will be released once the forensic audit is complete. Individuals who believe they may have had a false unemployment claim filed using their identity are urged to utilize the Department of Unemployment Assistance fraud contact form at mass.gov/unemployment-fraud or to call the DUA customer service department at 877-626-6800.
From: Alulema, Patricia (CMG-Boston) <Patricia.Alulema@boston25.com>
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 1:22 PM
To: Pearce, Charles (EOLWD) <email@example.com>
Subject: Boston 25 News Inquiry - UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE FRAUD - On Deadline
CAUTION: This email originated from a sender outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts mail system. Do not click on links or open attachments unless you recognize the sender and know the content is safe.
Hi again Charles.
This is the other request I referenced in my earlier email.
We understand that a second wave of fraudulent unemployment claims MAY have recently hit the MA DUA system/website. This time, though, the individuals affected appear to be municipal and state employees.
A couple of reliable sources inform us that in several MA municipalities, including Hopkinton, Sudbury and Needham, notices of “unemployment claim” are being received by towns stating that a number of their employees have filed for unemployment assistance. The sources tells us that the notices appear to be legitimate – originating from MA DUA and received via US Mail or email – but the claim is fraudulent, as the employees in question (those who have received said notices) remain employed by the municipality or agency. We understand that teachers and school administrators, firefighters, town administrators and even a state rep have been affected by this latest fraud. Hoping you can provide answers to the following, please:
- Please confirm another wave of fraudulent claims is impacting the MA DUA system. When was the fraud detected?
- Is this latest fraud in any way related to or leftover from the fraud scheme that was reported back in late May? Please see this press release.
- Since late May, what steps has the state of Massachusetts taken to ensure and beef up the security of the website and protect the DUA system from fraud?
Thank you for your response. Any insights you can offer by end of day, I’d greatly appreciate. If there is further comment, clarification or statement you’d like to provide, please feel free to include with your response.
WFXT, Boston 25 News
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