CHICAGO (CBS) — The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep so many people out of work – and while unemployment claims across the country are holding steady and even going down a bit, they are still rising in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported 74,131 new unemployment claims were filed across the state last week, the week of Nov. 22. That is up 13 percent from the week before.

And right along with increasing claims come increasing problems for people still struggling to get benefits or fighting to clear their names after being victims of fraud.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov on Thursday talked to someone who is experiencing both of those issues.

It’s a double whammy for Michael Portincaso, and he’s not alone. Now, the IDES wants him to cough up thousands of dollars he never got – even though it’s money he really needs.

“Here’s the debit card and the initial letter that came,” Portincaso said.

For Portincaso, a laid-off commodities broker, one might conclude that receiving a letter from the IDES and an unemployment benefit debit card would be good news.

Well, it’s not.

“There was a claim in my name dating back to April 19th,” Portincaso said.

Portincaso did not file that unemployment claim. He is now one of roughly 297,000 people in Illinois lumped into the IDES’ fraudulent claims pile.

Coincidentally, he got an unemployment benefit debit card he never activate -the very same day he tried to file for benefits he now needs.

“It’s’ just been a constant battering,” Portincaso said.

That is because like so many others we’ve spoken with, he can’t get his matter resolved. Portincaso said after speaking to one IDES employee who told him to file a fraud claim, he has had no luck in the callback queue.

It is not because he hasn’t gotten a call, but because he has – and twice. But neither time was there anyone on the other end.

“I sat there saying, ‘Hello? Hello? Hello?’ There was nobody on the line,” Portincaso said, “and then the message came on saying that this was the first attempt to reach me, that I was unavailable.”

That follow-up call never came.

At a news conference last week, acting IDES Director Kristin Richards said, “We’re happy to say that in many cases claimants can hear from us in one to two weeks or less.”

But callback issues have plagued IDES since the pandemic’s beginning, continuing even after a new system was implemented. Add the growing fraud cases to the mix and big problems persist.

Nine states, like Arizona, are now using the software to help verify identities and speed up claims. There was no response when Kozlov asked if that is something Illinois is considering.

However, IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco did say the department is in regular communication with other states to explore best practices and continues to explore all options to improve the system.

So where does all this leave Portincaso?

The answer is that he is waiting again in the IDES callback queue. And adding salt to the wound, he just got a letter asking him to pay back $2,100 he never accessed or used.

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.