Fraud spurs huge Ohio unemployment claim spike, state says

A massive spike in Ohio unemployment claims this month is likely due to attempted fraud, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said Thursday.

ODJFS officials say the 140,444 new unemployment claims filed between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6 amount to a 194% increase from the prior week. The majority of the new claims were flagged as potentially fraudulent.

“To date, 44,000 claims have been flagged under suspicion of fraud and are under review,” the agency said in a news release. “Even more of the 140,444 new claims are anticipated to be fraudulent. All of the claims will be reviewed, which will create delays in processing some legitimate claims.”

The agency identified late last year more than $330 million lost to fraud in Ohio unemployment payouts, the state said last week. Most of this was in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — created to help people such as contractors and part-timers during the pandemic who wouldn’t qualify for traditional unemployment. The new surge in claims is tied to traditional unemployment.

The $330 million was from 56,255 payments determined to be fraudulent. The number of claims flagged as potential fraud and still under review numbers in the hundreds of thousands — suggesting the total amount being lost to fraud could be much higher.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that it’s a national problem with global players.

“We have people from around the world attempting to defraud the unemployment compensation systems that each state has,” DeWine said.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the state is trying to balance preventing fraud with getting people needed aid.

“We have tens, hundreds of thousands of attempts at fraud from criminals. These are tax dollars and we don’t want them to go out to criminals who are trying to defraud the American taxpayer. So we have the obligation to flag them and make sure they are legitimate before we pay them out,” he said.

“The team also recognizes that there are a lot of people who are struggling who need this money. If you have a legitimate claim, you will get every penny that you are eligible for.”

ODJFS says in its release it is “investigating all claims that were flagged for potential fraud and taking steps to implement more robust identity verification in the traditional unemployment program.”

Many people are learning they are victims of identity theft related fraud when government records such as tax documents show up at their home. Last month, ODJFS issued 1.7 million 1099-G tax forms to people in whose names unemployment benefits were paid in 2020.

ODJFS has established a website and phone hotline for people to notify the agency if they believe their information was used to file a fraudulent claim.

The number of unemployment claims filed amid the pandemic is more than the combined total during the past five years. In addition to the new claims last week, Ohioans filed 300,638 continued jobless claims. This is about 38% of the peak last year. Another 270,376 received PUA benefits last week.

Over the past 47 weeks, ODJFS has paid out more than $8.3 billion in traditional unemployment assistance, and $8.5 billion in PUA payments.

Are you the victim of ID theft-related unemployment fraud?

Hotline: State officials launched a hotline for people who suspect their identity was improperly used to file for unemployment benefits. The number is (833) 658-0394.

Website: Individuals and employers can visit to report suspected unemployment fraud and obtain information on what to do if you or your employee’s identity may have been compromised.