TUCSON (KVOA) - For months, the N4T Investigators have heard from small business owners who were receiving dozens of fraudulent unemployment claims made with their company's name.
“No one has worked for our company in three years," said Sandra Castillo. "So I know they’re all fraudulent.”
Castillo’s husband owns a small painting business that received more than 100 unemployment claims.
The N4T Investigators have also heard from people who had their identity stolen and used to file for unemployment fraudulently.
“I received a letter from collections saying I owe $242 for unemployment,” said Legina Lewis. "I’m very worried because this isn’t a debt that I owe."
We have heard from people like Frank Roberts, who lost his job in March last year. He filed for unemployment and says it has felt impossible to get assistance.
“It’s unfathomable that it can be that unworkable,” Roberts said.
Calls to the Department of Economic Security would throw him back to the third-party verification service ID.me, which the state has contracted with to prevent fraud.
“You have to call this number at ID.me and you call the number it would reference you to online and online would go nowhere, nowhere, nowhere,” Roberts said.
We have made repeated requests for an interview with DES for months now, they have declined. ID.me Vice President Pete Eskew agreed to speak with us.
“This is the largest cybersecurity threat as it pertains to fraud in our nation's history,” Eskew said.
Eskew said 90% of people get through the ID process in five minutes or less, he believes they have successfully reduced fraud by billions of dollars; more than $200 billion for the 26 states that contract them.
“There’s going to be a lot of fraudsters who are no longer going to even attempt to defraud the State of Arizona and the numbers show that,” Eskew said.
“What should people like those I talked to that have legitimate claims and for whatever reason can’t get through ID.me do to get their money?” asked N4T Investigator Chorus Nylander.
“If they are struggling to get their money, we are here we are working 24/7 we’ve added about 500 people in the last month or so,” Eskew answered.
He said there are various reasons a legitimate claim could be blocked.
“Sometimes you are the second person to apply for benefits in your name, meaning your identity has already been stolen," Eskew said. "The state prior to ID.me may have paid that out so you come and try and present your ID via ID.me to the state and you’re going to be blocked.”
He could not give any information on how you would contest that decision but DES sent us a statement explaining what steps they take.
“If a claimant is attempting to file a claim for benefits and is unable to do so because their social security number has been used for fraudulent purposes, they can contact our Call Center and they will be assigned to an adjudicator for processing.
A claimant would only need to appeal if a disqualification was issued on their claim. If there is an ongoing issue, and the claimant has completed ID.me, they can contact the Call Center for assistance if their claim is pending resolution. DES reviews claims with an Identity Theft issue and if the claimant has verified their identity and the claim is found to not be fraudulent, the issue is cleared. If there are no additional active issues pending on the claim, payment will be released.
If a viewer has contacted you who is in this particular situation, please send us their name and contact number and our team will reach out to them to assist.” - DES spokesperson
If you have a story you’d like us to investigate email us at email@example.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.