VEC: Fraud at unprecedented levels, issues taking weeks to resolve

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A woman waiting on her unemployment benefits to resume since May says her payments went to the wrong place and she is not alone.

Reeka Faison from Newport News believes her bank account information was compromised.

But by the time she realized that, Faison said nearly $5,400 in back pay had already landed in an account she didn’t recognize.

“All my payment information had totally been changed,” Faison said.

After initially struggling to reach the Virginia Employment Commission by phone, Faison said she successfully reported the problem but she still has no idea when the issue will be resolved. She said she needs the money as soon as possible to pay her internet bill, her car registration and for gas as she looks for a new job.

“They [the VEC] need to do better as far as helping us out because we can’t wait weeks and months for our money to appear. The bill collectors are not going to say ‘oh we understand.’ They’re not,” Faison said.

Virginia Employment Commission Spokesperson Joyce Fogg declined to do an interview on Wednesday.

When asked how many identity fraud cases are pending right now, Fogg said in an email, “The exact number can not be disclosed. It is safe to say that fraud is at an unprecedented level.”

While 8News couldn’t independently verify Faison’s story, the problems she is describing have been reported by several other claimants.

Back in April, the VEC suspended certain online services to investigate a rise in fraud reports just like hers.

Asked what came of that investigation, Fogg wrote, “We know that many thousands of claims were filed illegitimately. We were able to stop most of those claims before payments were made. We had added additional security protocols to prevent those same actors from making an attempt to file.”

Despite those efforts, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society Director of Litigation Martin Wegbreit said he sees fraud-related issues cross his desk all of the time.

“Literally as you were driving over here I had a call from someone with a fraud issue,” Wegbreit said during an interview on Wednesday. “So when I say this happens on at least a weekly basis, sometimes a couple times a week, I’m not kidding.”

Compared to the overall amount of benefits paid out during the pandemic, Wegbreit said fraudulent claims are extremely rare. He said the most common reason for them is that another person steals personal information to claim benefits.

Wegbreit explained, when that happens, the VEC asks for verification of identity and locks the system until the issue can be resolved.

Fogg said it usually takes between three to four weeks to fix these issues.

Wegbreit said it’s not uncommon to see cases tied up for months.

“It’s taking far too long. These are benefits that people need to live on now,” Wegbreit said.

The VEC website outlines various scams that are attempting to defraud claimants.

In general, Fogg said people should never give out their pin and they should always make sure expected payments are deposited.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, complete this form. An agent can assist you in completing the form by calling 1-800-782-4001.

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