More than a year after the pandemic began, unemployment fraud issues continue.
Many Arizonans are fighting to get the money they should have received months ago, while others are battling fraud and identity theft concerns because their names were used to cheat the unemployment system.
The Rebound Arizona team has been pushing the state's Department of Economic Security (DES) on these problems from the beginning.
Back in August of last year, we told you how Sheri couldn't get access to her unemployment money. Her account was frozen because of fraud concerns, and Sheri says she couldn't get any help from DES or the bank about her identity concerns.
"They said, 'you are who you are but we can't do anything,'" she says.
Just last week, Jeff let me know he had the same concerns.
"It said the account is frozen," Jeff says, trying to access his unemployment funds.
Jeff was able to start getting unemployment checks, but he says that debit card account is still frozen. He says he's missing more than $800 and he can't get DES to give him any answers.
"I just asked, "please someone, please respond and just give me an idea of what's going on,'" Jeff says.
After airing dozens of stories about fraud and Arizonans not getting their unemployment money, we see the same problems: people still can't get access to their unemployment money, people who never applied are still getting debit cards, and Arizonans are still complaining that DES doesn't seem to care.
Rafael says he's called DES multiple times after getting an unemployment check despite never applying for it.
"I put a fraud claim on it and they didn't even call me back. I got it six weeks ago," he says.
Rafael says he even found an account set up online for him.
He let me know about it last week.
Last year, we told you how hundreds of people had the same issue of unemployment money going to the wrong people.
Mary is one of those people.
Back in July, she questioned how it could be allowed to happen so frequently.
"There has to be a stop-gap measure before someone sends a debit card to someone," she asked.
While DES didn't say fraud issues were solved, for a year they told us how they were changing procedures to deal with it. They also said they were hiring and training more workers for better customer service.
They said similar things recently when we asked them why the same problems exist now.
In a statement, a DES spokesperson says: "While fraud detection measures and identity verification have helped to combat fraud within the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, the Department remains vigilant in combating fraud within our systems, as fraud continues to be a nationwide concern. Individuals committing UI fraud are evolving and becoming more sophisticated. We will continue to identify suspicious activity among claims while working diligently to ensure eligible claimants continue to receive critical assistance.
DES and our call center vendor work diligently to continuously improve our ability to meet the needs of individuals contacting the Department. Additionally, we continue to hire and train more adjudicators to address unique or outstanding issues with cases and process claims to reduce the need for claimants to contact the call centers."
Rafael worries that he and all of the people who received unemployment money they didn't ask for and never used, might be taxed on the amounts.
But DES says: "If an individual receives a 1099-G and did not file for unemployment insurance in 2020, they should report identity theft immediately at des.az.gov/1099G-report [des.az.gov]. DES will review the report, amend or void the 1099-G information, and suspend the benefit claim associated with the social security number. Individuals who did not file for unemployment insurance will not be responsible for taxes on benefits issued in their name as a result of fraud."
I sent Jeff and Rafael's concerns to DES. They did not respond.