CHICAGO (CBS) — For months as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on, CBS 2 has been Working for Chicago with reporting that uncovers failures in the Illinois unemployment system.
Among the repeated issues is scammers stealing information to withdraw state unemployment dollars under your name.
CBS 2’s Chris Tye on Tuesday discovered how this scam is evolving, and why promises made by the State of Illinois have some victims concerned about how this might impact their taxes.
Step one was debit cards loaded with state relief money for people who never asked for them – organized by scammers. Step two may be access into your bank account – organized by scammers.
In the wake of all this, victims say the State of Illinois is both promising protection and demanding repayment.
“I would like to have a day in court where I can stand up and say: ‘This is me. I didn’t do this,” said Derrick Hassert.
Scammers stole Hassert’s information and that of thousands of others statewide, resulting in shipment of state-funded debit cards with unemployment benefits that the recipients never requested.
“IDES is experiencing fraud in an order of magnitude that we’ve never seen before,” said Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Kristin Richards.
Richards promised protection for people like Hassert.
“The good news is that we’re working closely with our state and federal partners to protect claimants,” she said.
But Hassert is not feeling that protection. The state told him he owes a total overpayment balance of $968.
And he said he was told if he doesn’t repay, the state “will deduct and withhold your state income tax refunds.”
“I’m still worried that come tax time, this might be reported as taxable income,” Hassert said.
The question still looms – if the card never ended up in the scammers’ hands, what did they gain?
A possible answer may be found in the following lyrics: “My swagger for EDD, go to the bank with a stack of these.”
EDD is the California unemployment system – the initials stand for Employment Development Department. Those lyrics come from rapper Nuke Bizzle, who made a video about stealing debit cards from victims’ mailboxes.
When Bizzle – real name Fontrell Antonio Baines – was arrested for that very crime in September, he had eight debit cards on him. He has pleaded not guilty.
But also, scammers may be moving the con from debit cards to bank accounts.
Hassert told the state about a second fraud that scammers just started using under an identity.
“Somebody has put in another claim, but to a checking account that is not mine,” he said.
Suburban police chiefs warn that the debit scam is giving way to money being pumped into fake bank accounts under your name – or siphoning funds from your legitimate one.
And taxpayers are getting fleeced each and every step of the way.
“My fear is, I don’t know how many millions of dollars or billions millions of dollars are being lost in this scam just in the state of Illinois,” Hassert said.
One police chief on Tuesday suggested two small tips to help avoid becoming the victim of a scam – make sure you don’t leave your mail in your mailbox too long, and consider getting a lock to put on the mailbox.
Meanwhile, the comment from IDES Director Richards for this story represented a rare opportunity to hear from the top of the department.
Over the past several months, CBS 2 has made dozens of requests to interview Richards and her predecessor, Tom Chan. On the vast majority of requests, we did not even get a “no” – the requests were just ignored.
In Richards’ rare appearance on Monday by way of Gov. JB Pritzker’s virtual news conference, she did not take questions.
We also did not know she was going to be speaking until the moment the daily coronavirus briefing started on Monday.
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