CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 continues Working for Chicago to shine a light on trouble at the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

We’ve done many stories on folks out of work who can’t get the benefits they should, and others on scammers – ripping off all of us by getting cash they don’t deserve.

On Friday, CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas introduced us to a suburban woman experiencing double trouble.

Maura Contreras does not want to sell her bowl, her vases, her lamp. She quite likes them all. But she has decided there isn’t a choice.

“The bills are not going to stop, unfortunately,” she said. “Every little bit helps. I love the pieces that it’s just – do I really need it right now? No.”

Contreras said her employer told her in late October that someone had used her name and Social Security number to submit a fraudulent unemployment claim. She said six of her coworkers were also victims, and she signed a document for her company stating she hadn’t filed.

But then, she said, “A few days later, I was actually let go from my employer for other reasons.”

So now, for the past two weeks, Contreras really has been trying to file – but she can’t get a hold of a real person.

“And I wish they would call back,” she said.

Now, Contreras is looking for a new job. She eventually got a letter from IDES dated before she was laid off, stating someone had changed her address on file by one digit and to call right away if that was incorrect.

“Well, we really can’t do that if they’re not answering the call,” she said.

CBS 2 has reported on unemployment fraud running rampant, frustrating Illinois residents such as Linda Carr.

“What if I do lose my job, and I really need to file for unemployment?” Carr said. “Someone already having filed will make it difficult for me to collect it.”

Contreras said that is exactly what is happening to her. Meanwhile, she is trying to pay her daughter’s college tuition, and she is worried her husband’s construction jobs will freeze up in the cold weather.

“It is surreal. It’s almost, like why is this happening?” she said. “I get that there are many people who are going through the fraudulent side of things, but now, that I’m on the legitimate side of things. How can I submit my claim?”

Contreras used to help her company transition to better financial systems to manage credit cards and travel expenses smoothly. She said if the state can’t get her unemployment, they should give her a job.

“I would definitely love to help,” Contreras said.

Contreras even tried to file online, but got an error message, saying her information couldn’t be validated.

CBS 2 reached out to IDES to ask what the holdup is. The agency sent this statement regarding fraud and its efforts to tackle the problem:

Fraudsters are using personally identifiable information (PII) they have hijacked from victims through some previous cyber-attacks or data breaches to file for unemployment benefits in the victim’s name. This is happening nationwide, and in Illinois, the state’s unemployment agency has received thousands of reports from victims who have had their identities stolen and then had their identities used to file for benefits.

When a fraudster files a claim and that fraudulent claim is flagged, one unintended result is that it may make it harder for victims to file legitimate claims should they need to do so due to enhanced security around their PII.  

If a victim finds themselves in this circumstance, we urge them to please contact the agency at 1-800-244-5631 and to speak with someone regarding this problem.

This will provide them with a callback from an agent who can investigate the issue and assist.

Also From CBS Chicago:

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.


Tim McNicholas