Horror and stress is what Susan felt after she was laid off from her job this fall.
After four decades in her career, she found herself filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. When she started the process with the state, her situation got even worse.
“Much to my horror there was a claim that had already been filed,” Susan said.
She quickly discovered that someone else had filed for unemployment benefits using her identity. She reported the identity fraud to the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).
“You basically wait because you can’t file a new claim until we investigate who you are,” Susan said.
As she waited, she was unable to apply for her own benefits and was left with no choice but to continue to call DUA constantly to check on her status.
“Each time I call, it’s an hour on hold waiting to talk to somebody and I’m trying to be patient,” Susan said.
The weeks went on without any updates and without any money.
“We had to pay attention to what the bills are, and look at where we are spending money,” she said.
Anju Parthan knows this stress and waiting game well.
She was laid off from her job in the biotech industry in September. Shortly after, she also ran into problems filing for unemployment.
“I tried to create an account but when I entered my social security number it directly took me to inputting my password and I was like, ‘I’ve never created a password before,’” she explained.
Like Susan, she discovered someone had previously created an account and filed for unemployment using her personal information.
Also, like Susan, weeks went by without answers.
“I would call every day. At least four to five calls during a week and no success,” Parthan said.
The MA Department of Unemployment Assistance said it currently takes an average of 17 days from submitting a claim to receiving payment. However, when identity fraud occurs, those claims need to be investigated, which can add up to three weeks to the process.
Both Susan and Parthan waited more than three months just to get their identity fraud cleared.
“You are everyday looking for a job and meeting people and trying to network but in the back of your mind you
are like, ‘What is happening to my unemployment paycheck?’” Parthan said. “It has not been easy.”
While DUA told Parthan she would retroactively get paid, the lack of money in the meantime had an impact.
“There was a lot of anxiety between our family,” Parthan said. “Having no support at all financially and trying to dip into our retirement savings, it’s not easy. I hope no one has to go through that.”
DUA told 7 Investigates more than 1,100 people reported they were unable to file claims due to previous fraudulent claims filed on their behalf between October 2023 and January 2024.
“During the pandemic, a lot of these benefit programs saw this influx of fraud come and unfortunately for Massachusetts it hasn’t gone away, we’re one of the higher weekly benefit amounts in the country and it’s a nationwide issue,” explained Katie Dishnica, the director of DUA.
Dishnica explained while there has been an uptick in reports of fraudulent claims, it does not mean money was distributed.
“We will often stop a claim before any payment goes out but once the information is used, unfortunately, it requires investigation if someone needs to file,” Dishnica said.
Those investigations took time and were complicated by staffing shortages. Since last year, DUA said it has 62 fewer employees due to a reduction in federal funding. The reduction means critical roles are vacant.
“I would say it doesn’t impact the actual investigation itself but we do have to do a constant shifting of resources. We were short staffed for many weeks as we pulled people from their assignment to be able to train them in order to augment the call center and the program integrity department,” Dishnica said.
Susan and Parthan were finally able to get their identities cleared and start the process of receiving benefits after reaching out to 7 Investigates.
“We’re happy that finally after three months things are moving in the direction that they should have on day one,” Parthan expressed.
Both wish the process would have moved faster and they received more communication along the way.
“If there is something that is broken, let’s try to figure out what needs to change,” Susan said.
DUA told 7 Investigates it has made a number of updates and improvements recently that has led to nearly all reported fraud cases being investigated. Only a few cases are left pending, according to a spokesperson for DUA.
DUA can’t stop claims from being filed but is trying to better detect fraudulent claims by utilizing a multi-layer approach including employer verification and working with ID.me to require additional identity documents.
This fall the DUA also started modernizing its system to increase accessibility, improve customer experience and increase fraud prevention and detection.
“We are actually in the process of building out a new system that is scheduled to go out in 2025 so we are limited in what we are investing in the current system,” Dishnica said.
Susan and Parthan hope these ongoing improvements help future people in need.
“No one should go through what we went through,” Parthan said.
Dishnica also urges everyone to be cautious when sharing personal information to help proactively prevent fraudulent claims from being filed.
DUA advises anyone who might suspect that a fraudulent unemployment claim was filed on their behalf to report it to: https://www.mass.gov/forms/unemployment-fraud-reporting-form
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