MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - When a lot of money is at stake, there’s bound to be cases of fraud. The federal stimulus checks and the extension of the weekly jobless benefits have apparently been too tempting for a number of people. Fraud claims are up dramatically.
The free ride is about to get really bumpy for some, and it’s come as no surprise to Kelly Betts, public information officer for the Alabama Department of Labor.
“But then with the federal programs that money got really big really fast. And I think that just wetted people’s appetite,” said Betts.
Betts says since the pandemic, unemployment compensation fraud cases have risen dramatically.
‘So that’s where we are at this point,” said Betts.
Betts says she didn’t have any hard numbers but the Alabama Department of Labor is getting a number of calls from employers throughout the state.
“We knew when we were pushing out benefits really fast and trying to get that money into the hands of claimants that, you know, fraud might be an issue on the back end and now that’s what we’re dealing with,” she said.
Local and state prosecutors are now involved. So is the daily tweaking of the system in a move to stay a step ahead of the thieves.
“Because as we put one thing in place, people learn how to sidestep those programs so we have to come up with new and better ways to prevent fraud,” Betts said.
Just over a year ago, the Alabama Department of Labor said close to 30 people had been arrested on various charges of unemployment compensation fraud. All were ordered to pay restitution.
“The online portal is the best way to report the fraud, whether you’re an employee, an employer, once that claim is flagged as possibly fraudulent then no claim will be paid,” she said.
Big money, big temptations. If history is any guide, the con game will soon come to halt.
The amount stolen in unemployment benefits in the cases announced in February 2020 ranged from as little as $1,300 to as much as $8,200.