Illinois IDES unemployment fraud reports top 1 million; how the scam became widespread

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- Unemployment fraud has gripped the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In Illinois alone, state leaders said they've identified 1 million fraudulent unemployment claims.

"I'm concerned about my credit score," said Ed Dudley.

Dudley has gotten not one but five letters sent to his Highland Park home, each stating he applied for unemployment benefits. But he hasn't; Dudley has a job.

"What if I do really need to apply? Is that going to impact my ability to get benefits at a later date?" he wondered.

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Dudley has documentation showing that one attempt to use him for unemployment fraud paid out around $800 to someone using his name.

The ABC7 I-Team has heard from hundreds of local victims of unemployment fraud. According to Phil Burnett, a tech security expert with High Wire Networks, the ease of obtaining someone's personal information has contributed to the widespread scam.

RELATED: How to report fraud to IDES as fake claims spike

"Take for example the Equifax breach of 2017. There's roughly 350 million people in the U.S.; 140 million records were stolen," he said.

Burnett also said popular quizzes on social media often collect birthdates, hometown, or employer information.

"People are going on to the IDES website from anywhere in the world with all this information they've gathered, and they're opening the claim online," he explained.

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Another common tactic is buying Social Security Numbers on the dark web. And unemployment systems are being targeted because their security is in desperate need of updating, and scammers know it, according to security experts/

"That's the challenge right with government right now, is they haven't made the investments in investing in enabling digital transactions, like the private sector," said Haywood Talcove, a fraud expert at LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

Talcove said private companies use technology which examines devices being used to create accounts. This can weed out bad actors overseas opening scam accounts.

RELATED: Illinois unemployment system experiencing unprecedented fraud, IDES acting director says

"All this information is on your device now. And when you combine that information with machine learning, artificial intelligence and public record information, you can very quickly, separate out the fraudsters from the non-fraudsters," Talcove explained.

Talcove believes the tech could weed out 99% of fraud.

RELATED: IDES Unemployment Fraud: How to make sure you won't be taxed on stolen benefits

In a late January interview, Acting IDES Director Kristin Richards said the agency has stopped almost 1 million fraud claims since March of last year.

"Imposters, sadly, can do a very good job of using information that's available to them on the dark web through social media. Our data team works on this day in and day out to try and find what we can and stop it," she said.

RELATED: Unemployment fraud task force formed by Illinois attorney general, other agencies

Richards said many fraud claims are stopped when employers receive the same benefit letters as the fraud victims. But that doesn't appear to be the case for Dudley, who received a fifth fraud letter even after IDES assured him no more claims could be filed.

"There must be some way to flag somebody's account once a fraudulent attempt has been made, so that they don't get a second, third, fourth attempt made," he said.

The I-Team has also reported how IDES does not have two factor authentication, a process which uses a password - something you know - and a device - something you have - to allow access to a platform.

Tips for if you become a victim of unemployment insurance fraud



- Report the Unemployment Insurance Fraud to IDES as soon as possible on their website
- Do not activate the debit card mailed to you
- Do not contact KeyBank
- Request and review your credit report
- Learn how to recognize and avoid phishing scams here
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