NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — Scammers can get your Social Security number and use it to unlock your unemployment benefits – even if you’re still gainfully employed.
As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported Thursday, there is a new spike in fraud cases in Illinois. Scammers have been working overtime in particularly in the suburbs over the last month, draining accounts using your identity.READ MORE: Chicago Police Union President Estimates More Than 3,000 Officers Defying City's Vaccine Reporting Mandate
Sources inside the Illinois department of Employment Security describe the sheer tonnage of scamming and fraud as historic. Crisis creates opportunity, and millions of Americans are entangled.
And those who are stuck say the state is not making it easy to get untangled.
“I was quite surprised,” said Susan Gzesh of Chicago.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Craig, a suburban resident.
Both are victims of one curious scheme growing at lightning speed.
“I know it’s big,” Gzesh said. “IDES told me it was big.”
How big? Sources inside the IDES told CBS 2 there has been a huge spike in scams since October. It starts with scammers getting a hold of your basic information.
“They had to get my Social Security number from someplace,” Craig said.
“At least (they) knew where I worked,” Gzesh said.
With that, the scammers apply for unemployment benefits in your name – benefits that come in the form of debit cards loaded with state money.
But there are two problems. One is that neither of the people we talked to is out of work.
“I was quite surprised because I have been working steadily,” Gzesh said.
And second, not only is Craig not out of work – he is a part owner of his company.
“I don’t think I fired myself recently,” he said.
So when the state reached out to confirm his termination, he told them, “I think there’s an error here, and fraud.”
Even though Craig told them he did not, in fact, fire himself, the debit card arrived in his mailbox anyway. The same goes for Gzesh.
“This is a very leaky ship and nobody has figured out how to plug all the holes in it yet,” she said.
The holes are showing up all over.READ MORE: Chicago Firefighter Fired Over Racist Social Media Posts; City Worker Reprimanded For Bringing Gun To O'Hare
In Naperville, identity theft cases reported to police nearly tripled in the last month – 450 so far in November and more than 1,400 this year. Park Ridge has seen a dozen similar identity theft cases every week, and in Lake in the Hills, unemployment fraud has hit a total of 51 people in the last month.
Glenview has seen 42 cases over the same period. The City of McHenry is also warning residents of fraud spikes.
“Who knows where the breach came from?” Craig said.
And since the real people – not the scammers – are ending up with the money, there is concern that a larger scam may be in the works.
“You know, I don’t know who’s benefiting from this scheme, you know?” Gzesh said.
What they do know is that alerting the state about it all hasn’t been easy.
“Being a person who lives in the 21st century, I wonder, why was there no way for me to file this online?” Gzesh said.
“They said you can only have one call in there at a time,” Craig said.
As they wait for return calls, new cases mount and victims with debit cards they never asked for wonder if there is another shoe yet to drop.
“It’s a pretty high level of frustration,” Craig said.
“So, how can I stop the train?” Gzesh said.
Late Thursday, the Illinois Attorney General’s office released numbers to CBS 2. They report having received 4,000 calls and 850 written complaints about unemployment fraud since July.
There is no particular pattern when it comes to those being targeted. They are young and old, and live in the city and suburbs.
But of late, authorities have noticed people who are employed being the target, whereas back in the spring in summer, there were more cases targeting the identity of those who are unemployed.
The big question is where is the breach, and when the victims are the ones who are getting the bank cards, what are the scammers getting out of all of it?
Tye asked Gov. JB Pritzker late last week what is going on to try to solve this issue in a more robust way. Pritzker said the state is trying to bring more people on to try to solve the problems, but many we talked with said it is taking weeks to get an answer from the state.
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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.MORE NEWS: Group Robs Three 7-Eleven Stores Within 30 Minutes Downtown