Calumet City woman without unemployment benefits after stranger allegedly files in her name

CALUMET CITY, Ill. (WLS) -- A Calumet City woman who recently lost her job says she can't file for unemployment because a stranger has already filed in her name.

Cara Johnson said she's spent the last six weeks trying to clear her name and get the unemployment benefits she desperately needs.

"I lost my job on August 19," she said.

Johnson said she applied for the benefits immediately after losing her job, but wasn't able to.

With bills adding up, Johnson said she desperately needs the problem to be fixed, but IDES isn't acting fast enough to correct the issue.

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security website, Johnson said she learned she had an existing account with IDES.

"My first thought was that, could it be from 15 years ago? Which was the last time that I filed," Johnson said.

Johnson said it took her three weeks to reach someone by phone at IDES. When she finally got ahold of someone, she said she was told someone had applied for unemployment benefits using her information in April of this year.

"I was just really concerned about how this was going to effect the benefits that I had coming and if I would be able to resolve it in a timely manner before I go through my entire savings," she said.

Johnson said she was told the person who applied using her name was sent a debit card with nearly $1,400 on it.

"You know, they told me the address because they were trying to confirm if it was mine. It makes me want to go knock on that door and say 'really, what's going on,'" Johnson said. "If you have an address, to me the next logical step would be to have law enforcement or whoever go to that address to get some answers."

The ABC 7 I-Team has spent the last three months investigating widespread fraud impacting the IDES system. The department did not respond to the I-Team's specific questions about Johnson's case, but IDES has spoken broadly about fraud cases in recent weeks.

"If a claimant experiences this type of fraud, we encourage them to call and report it to IDES. Additionally, a claimant should take steps to better secure their password and security questions they've selected and answered as part of the password reset process," IDES officials said.

They said that if someone believes they have experienced fraud, their fraud division will conduct an investigation. However, IDES says these investigations can take quite some time to complete due to the need to subpoena banking information from financial institutions.

But Johnson said she's running out of time and money and only has a small amount of savings.

"They're dwindling," she said. "My bills didn't stop and I don't want to lose them all. That troubles me."

When it comes to fraud cases IDES said if their investigation leads to the conclusion that benefits were diverted somewhere else, payment will be reissued to the affected person.

Resources:



IDES says fraud victims are encouraged to contact the department at 800.814.0513.

You should also report unemployment fraud to the IRS to avoid having to pay money on fraudulent funds. Click here for help: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft

The Illinois Attorney General would also like to hear from unemployment fraud victims here: https://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/Identity_Theft_Resource_Guide.pdf

Fraud victims are encouraged to check their credit report history and possibly put a freeze on their credit, as well as file an identity theft report here: identitytheft.gov.

You can contact Samantha Chatman and the ABC 7 I-Team here: https://abc7chicago.com/need-a-story-investigated-contact-the-abc7-i-team/1519522/

Full statement from the Illinois Department of Employment Security:

"If a claimant experiences this type of fraud, we encourage them to call and report it to IDES at 800.814.0513; their call will be returned in the order it was received. Additionally, a claimant should take steps to better secure their password and security questions they've selected and answered as part of the password reset process. It's important to use complex passwords and answers to these questions so that it is much harder for their account to be logged into, and have their information changed, by anyone other than the claimant.

If a claimant believes they have experienced this type of fraud, the IDES fraud division will conduct an investigation and payment tracer to determine if benefit payment was sent out or not. If the investigation leads to the conclusion that a person's account information has been changed and payment was diverted elsewhere, payment will be reissued to the affected claimant. However, it is important to note and understand that these investigations can take quite some time to complete due to the need to subpoena banking information from financial institutions."
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