News 4 Investigates: Millions of dollars being lost to unemployment fraud in Illinois

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by Chris Nagus / News 4 and KMOV.com staff

KMOV.com

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 10:55 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 14 at 11:17 AM

(KMOV) -- Benefits that are a lifeline for the unemployed have been abused by the tens of millions of people in Illinois, according to information obtained by News 4.

Government officials say outdated computer systems, greedy people and those who weren’t entitled to the benefits in the first place have lead to a big mess, leading to a News 4 investigation.

A Metro East woman said she found herself in a big mess with the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Week after week she filed for benefits and the state kept sending checks. It wasn’t until she was overpaid by more than $5,000 that the mistake was discovered.

“They said I fell through the cracks,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

The woman claims it was an honest mistake and has since paid back the money. But plenty of people choose not to pay it back.

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton’s office is prosecuting fraudsters, but only after they’re given the chance to pay up.  It is a statewide problem. In Chicago, 32 people were charged after ripping off more than $870,000. One woman stole $48,000, the same as the median household income for St. Clair County.

According to records, $2 million was stolen by people claiming unemployment while they were in prison.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security recently announced new measures to clamp down on fraud.

Jay Rowell, the department’s director, told News 4 his agency has a lot of outdated computer systems they are working to replace. One new system is prison inmate cross-checking.

“Before we pay out $1, every payment is checked on that list” said Rowell.

They’re also checking whose paying Medicare taxes, or collecting a paycheck but still collecting unemployment.

It’s a monumental task to keep track. Rowell says at least 200,000 people are collecting unemployment benefits in Illinois.

Illinois is now getting federal grants, close to $3 million, to battle fraud. The state also added two attorneys to prosecute those accused of fraud.

 

 

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