SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Denise O’Connell has had a tough year. She’s being treated for breast cancer and has not had an income for months since the pandemic began. She has a small house-cleaning business but says it’s been closed since March. Then came the issue of unemployment benefits. “I tried but somebody stole it,” she said.
O’Connell applied for benefits and says she was approved. But she received two payments. “I checked online and found out somehow, that someone had changed my information and the money was being sent to a bank account through direct deposit but it’s not my account. I had my benefits going to a debit card,” she told me.
O’Connell said after being initially told by an employee from the Department of Labor that her account had apparently been hacked, she has heard nothing more.
Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler told us her case is being investigated and unfortunately isn’t the only one. “Fraud has been an issue since July,” he said.
Butler said the department is dealing with the potential of tens of thousands of fraud cases. He says frankly the majority involve people and or gangs of crooks making fraudulent claims. However, he says people like O’Connell are being caught in the web of other kinds of fraud, i.e. having their online unemployment accounts hijacked.
“One thing that we do know is that the people who are committing fraud by hacking into people’s accounts have a lot of very accurate personal information on these individuals,” said Butler.
He says stolen personal information is now being used by hackers to get into online unemployment accounts. He says they are obligated to try to figure out what happened in each and every case.
“We do have to thoroughly investigate it. We do subpoena the financial institution because we do see where the money was diverted to and we try to find out who did this,” said Butler. “As soon as we go through the investigation and the case where somebody was a victim and then we can go back and release payments back to the rightful recipient.
“I need to find out where this money went, I just want to know what happed to my (benefits.),” said O’Connell. “You know, you can’t talk to anybody.
O’Connell says she may need more medical treatment and is worried her case is being forgotten. Butler assures us that is not the case.
“It’s just very unfortunate that you have this many people who are trying to go out there right now and commit fraud and are affecting people’s lives that need this help,” said Butler.