By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, so did a crime spree.
Criminals stole identities and filed fake unemployment claims across the country, including more than 100,000 in Oklahoma.
Employees with the City of Midwest City were a popular target for the fraud schemes. The city saw 164 fraudulent claims against employees, and 24 claims using bogus information.
Troy Bradley, human resources director for Midwest City, said they started seeing fraudulent claims in the middle of April. The city received as many as 50 in one week until they tapered off in early July.
“I think the OESC is clamping down on the fraud,” he said. “And we’re running out of employees for people that they can target.”
When an unemployment claim is made, Bradley said they must verify the wages and past employment. He said they started seeing more and more claims for current employees. The city has 10 days to protest any claims including those that are fraudulent.
“There is typically a 10-day window to respond, but we’re definitely responding quicker than that,” he said. “We’re trying to respond to these the same day or next day.”
Governmental agencies like the city do not pay unemployment insurance but instead reimburse OESC for actual claims every quarter. Last month, Bradley said they received a bill for $110,000 which included numerous fraudulent claims. The claims ranged from about $5 to $5,000.
“I’ve just been going through the list line by line to find the valid ones,” he said.
Shelley Zumwalt, OESC interim executive director, said the agency has taken a number of steps, including working closely with law enforcement and other state agencies, such as OMES, to bring the criminals behind these schemes to justice.
In partnership with OMES, Zumwalt met with state credit card vendor Conduent and demanded the company do more to mitigate fraud associated with unemployment claims. Conduent monitored and identified various entities that were often involved with fraudulent claims and has since blocked access to those entities.
Zumwalt said the OESC also continues to monitor and implement new strategies and procedures to help stop fraudulent claims from being processed. One such procedure was partnering with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to launch an online form for individuals and employers to submit fraudulent cases.
Unemployment fraud victims should file a fraud report through OESC’s home page, ui.ok.gov (“Report Fraud” tab), which is shared between OESC, the Attorney General’s office and OSBI, so citizens no longer need to fill out multiple forms for different agencies. OESC will also release digital ID verification in the coming month that will help eliminate identity fraud associated with unemployment claims.