The state of Ohio on Friday started taking requests for replacement funds from people whose unemployment benefits were stolen, and processing waivers for people who were overpaid through no fault of their own.
The state also launched a new fraud reporting tool.
Ohioans who were victims of “account takeovers” — when a criminal gains unauthorized access to a legitimate account and reroutes the benefits — can call 877-644-6562 to request reimbursement for the stolen funds.
“Our goal is to ensure victims of account takeovers are made whole,” said Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Matt Damschroder.
“In addition, over the past six months we have implemented a number of anti-fraud measures to reduce the likelihood of account takeovers and other criminal attempts to commit fraud against the system.”
ODJFS is reaching out to 3,100 claimants with account activity suggesting they might be victims of a takeover, asking them to review their accounts to make sure they received what they were owed and report it if not.
State officials say the 3,100 is not an indication of the scope of the problem. ODJFS said in July they had 1.5 million claims flagged for review as potentially fraudulent. And reports continue coming in. ODJFS launched an improved fraud reporting portal at unemployment.ohio.gov for people who received correspondence in other people’s names.
Area residents say reporting suspected fraud can be cumbersome. Dayton resident Tracy Kraft recently received a notice from ODJFS to an address she owns where no one lives. The letter was addressed to a woman Kraft doesn’t know — a background check suggests the woman may have died in 2018 — and says the woman can apply to have her unemployment overpayment waived.
“The address the letters have been sent to hasn’t been occupied for probably 20 years,” Kraft said. “I thought calling and letting someone know it happened and there was fraud attached to it might be a good idea.”
Kraft was concerned she might be implicated because an address she owns was used. Kraft said she spent three hours getting the “run around” from ODJFS before a worker told her just to return it to sender.
ODJFS on Friday will also begin processing waivers for people so they don’t have to pay back unemployment overpayments they received through no fault of their own. To date, about 155,000 claimants have sought waivers.
State officials estimate that billions of dollars in unemployment benefits was improperly paid out during the pandemic. This includes $478 million lost to fraud, but most of it — nearly $3.4 billion — was due to mistakes made by the applicant, employer or ODJFS.
Several readers have contacted the Dayton Daily News after receiving correspondence saying they owed tens of thousands of dollars in overpayments — money they say they were eligible for or never received.
ODJFS says calling the account takeover hotline will cause an affidavit to be sent to the claimant, asking individuals to indicate the weeks they did not receive funds. The affidavit must be notarized. Once this is received, a state worker will review the application and make a determination, which can be appealed. There is no estimate on processing time.
Meanwhile new unemployment claims are down. ODJFS on Thursday reported that Ohioans filed 10,135 new claims and 108,100 continued jobless claims last week. This is 2,817 fewer new claims and 51,676 fewer continued claims than the week before.
Josh Sweigart is an investigative reporter at the Dayton Daily News. His stories have focused on government waste, fraud, abuse and accountability in southwest Ohio, as well as the statehouse and U.S. Capitol.