Basalt town official snuffs out unemployment scams
13 claims filed on past and present employees, council members
The town of Basalt was the target of an unemployment claim scam that has been sweeping Colorado since the pandemic hit last year.
The town government successfully snuffed out the fraud and didn’t incur any expenses, according to finance director Christy Chicoine.
“There were 13 claims filed with the Town that we believe are fraudulent over the past four months,” Chicoine said in an email. “We don’t anticipate the Town will incur any actual losses for claims.”
She said the town notified the state about the claims and also alerted the individuals who were targeted so they could also notify the state. The total number of claims filed had a maximum benefit of about $130,000, Chicoine said.
The problem has been so prevalent that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment started a fraud prevention page on its website.
In an email Monday, a representative of the department said, “We estimate that we have prevented more than 1.1 million fraudulent claims from being paid out, preventing more than $7 billion in fraudulent benefit payments since the start of the pandemic.”
The department reports fraud cases to the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General. The latest report on Jan. 6 laid out fraud for all of 2020. There were 8,879 claims with confirmed fraud, $97.73 million in potential losses and $6.56 million in confirmed losses.
The state department said there was not a breach of its database.
“Many Colorado employers are noticing fraudulent unemployment claims being filed in names of active employees,” the labor department’s website said. “Fraud within the Unemployment Insurance programs nationally has become rampant during the pandemic. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program under the CARES Act has been a relatively easier target, as it does not have the same checks and balances inherent in the state (unemployment insurance) system.”
At a small operation such as the town of Basalt, the fraudulent claims were easy to detect.
“Christy caught them all,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said.
Claims were filed on current and former town employees as well as past and present council members. The claims under the names of current employees as well as council members raised red flags.
“The claims had trickled in, and then there was a larger amount of claims received over the past two weeks,” Chicoine said.
Mahoney said there wasn’t a breach of the town’s database.
Experts suspect scammers harvested birth dates, social security numbers and other personal information in numerous high-profile data breaches of large companies and others not so well known in recent years.
Chicoine said all businesses should be vigilant about monitoring unemployment claims, particularly in the current environment. When a fraudulent claim is detected, the employee being shown to have submitted the claim should be contact immediately and instructed to report the fraud to the state and to put a fraud watch on their information with all three credit bureaus, she said.
More information can be found at the state labor department’s fraud prevention website at https://cdle.colorado.gov/fraud-prevention.
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