CHICAGO (CBS) — A new wave of layoffs is not good news for the Illinois unemployment system, which is already struggling under the weight of a crush of pandemic claims.

On Friday night, new accusations surfaced saying the state did nothing to stop tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment fraud targeting a single small business.

As CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported, the state lost more than $30,000 to fraudsters from the employees of the small business with which we talked.

But it’s not just the fraud the victims have a problem with.

“Between the three of us, we’ve got around $37,000 of the state’s money tied up,” said Victor Chigas.

Chigas and two coworkers at a small financial business all had fraudsters apply for unemployment in their name.

“It’s crazy how much money the state is losing all around us,” he said.

It is money, he said, that the Illinois Department of Employment Security distributed without even trying to check on their employment status.

“They’re not even remotely doing their due diligence on this,” Chigas said.

He said there was no phone call, letter, or anything else from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

“The state is just sending our money in the easiest of fashion without even picking up the phone call and calling to see if anyone was terminated,” Chigas said.

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He reported the fraud on Oct. 19.

On Friday, almost three week later, he’d had no callback from IDES to address the fraud and put an end to it.

It was fraud he called totally preventable.

“It’s going to screw up my tax returns at year end,” Chigas said.

Molina asked IDES about that. She reached the agency’s spokeswoman with this story, asking why they didn’t reach out to anyone at this company.

She said an employer always receives a notice from them and has 10 days to respond to it. She added the following information:

When a claimant files an unemployment insurance claim, the chargeable employer receives notice and is asked to respond to the Department within 10 days if they wish to protest the claim.  Employers may protest a claim for various reasons, including that the employee was fired rather than being laid off, or that the employee is still currently working (which would make it a fraudulent claim).  If an employer does not protest the claim, the Department moves forward with processing the claim and determining eligibility for the claimant with the information we have at that point.  It is imperative employers communicate with the Department and respond to notices of claim as soon as possible so that unemployment insurance benefits are not being paid to claimants who are not eligible to receive them, but also because employer unemployment tax rates are calculated, among other variables, on the number of unemployment claims filed against a business as the chargeable employer.

IDES strongly suggests that all employers in Illinois register for electronic notification of Notices of Claim through the State Information Data Exchange System (SIDES). This would greatly increase the speed at which employers and IDES can exchange information and identify fraudulent claims.  Information regarding SIDES can be found at:

https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www2.illinois.gov_ides_IDES-2520Forms-2520and-2520Publications_SIDES-2520March-25202018.pdf-23search-3DSIDES&d=DwIGaQ&c=jGUuvAdBXp_VqQ6t0yah2g&r=ekLY9rBpyZJfleJBvKShAQ&m=zf1jmvHXKQH9lMF9cKo-eWcG5Xsn1Lf5dsQgyUDF4jc&s=dKg4ehYEQ39LQJz5xlKzAhJa6HhTzwUuVfS3QyYUB0g&e=

But Chigas insists that didn’t happen in this case. IDES would not address why.

And while Gov. JB Pritzker continues to blame fraud issues on the federal government’s handling of the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance system set up for freelancers, that wasn’t the case here.

“To me, they are not honoring their obligations to watch over our money,” Chigas said.

It’s unclear if Chigas and his colleagues could be tied up in the issues we’ve uncovered with IDES’ partnership with Experian, which is meant to verify claimants’ identities and prevent fraud.

We’ve learned there are issues there that could be affecting fraud cases statewide.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

 

Tara Molina