Is it a fraud scheme targeting unemployment benefits, or something more?
For more than two weeks, The Let Joe Know team has been piecing together what has been happening inside the Arizona Department of Economic Security, or DES. Viewers from across the state send emails detailing how they received debit cards for unemployment benefits they never applied for. Those cards often containing thousands of dollars.
"I called DES, and I got through to an operator, and she immediately said, ‘oh my gosh! Its fraud,’" said one ABC15 viewer, Jamie.
He reported the possible scammer who filed a claim before he could. He reported it, thinking he was doing the right thing. But, now that his business has shut down because of the pandemic, he needs those benefits and he cannot get them. He has been frozen out of the system.
"She was like, ‘oh my gosh. You've got to see what this person typed in for you,’" said Jamie.
This is just one case Let Joe Know saw over the last few weeks. So many people letting them know they received unexplained debit cards. This previous case was unique. Many have the same story about the debit cards: It comes in the mail, it's loaded with thousands in unemployment money, and the people getting it claim they never asked for it.
That includes people like Jaqueline who is fully employed and Crag who has worked for 12 years at the same job.
DES said it is not a mistake on their end. They claim it is fraud. However, if it is fraud, it must be on a massive scale. Receiving this mistaken unemployment money, 160 Arizonans Let Joe Know.
Out of the 43 people who knew how much was loaded onto the cards, it was an average of $6,900 each.
That, times the 160 people who messaged us, totals over one-million dollars in unemployment money that could have been sent to people who applied.
When asked about the problem, DES blamed it on issues that stem from a separate system used for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
DES believes scammers have personal information like names, birthdates, addresses, social security numbers, and even personal work history. This is used to apply online for benefits, while the scammers enter in their own direct deposit information. However, that is when the payment information is flagged. Somehow, that triggers a debit card to be sent to the person whose identity was stolen.
Kielene said a debit card came to her with her maiden name printed on it, which she has not used since 1993. Doug said he got one with a name that was actually a typo put in at a Best Buy in 2003. Emmerson never even lived in Arizona, but he got a card from our state all the way in Colorado.
We were told, protocol has since changed, but DES will say little else about the issue. Plus, all of the people say they tried getting through to DES, but can't get help about what to do. Meanwhile, the Let Joe Know team been going through these viewer emails trying to piece together how people's information was taken.
If you have a card, the AZ Attorney General's office is telling people to follow these steps:
· Destroy the debit card you received after you report the fraud to Arizona Department of Economic Security.
· File a criminal complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office online or by calling (602) 542-8888 or (520) 628-6504.
· File a complaint with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
· Alert your employer and Human Resources Department and ask them to flag any notice that comes from DES about a claim filed under your name.
· File a complaint with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. The FTC can also help with a one-year fraud alert on your credit, get free credit reports, and close fraudulent accounts in your name.