Texans filed more than 83,000 unemployment claims last week. That’s the highest number in one week since July of 2020, and it’s more than double the number of claims in many weeks since September. Possible reasons for the uptick could be new federal relief laws as well as the continued effects of February’s deadly freeze and power failure. But could fraudulent claims also be contributing to the high number?
James Bernsen is deputy director of communications for the Texas Workforce Commission, or TWC. He told Texas Standard the commission has seen a dramatic increase in fraud over the last year, corresponding to the pandemic. He says fraud often follows disaster.
“We saw with Hurricane Harvey there was a big increase in fraudulent attempts to get unemployment benefits,” Bernsen said. “Whenever we have a lot of money out there and it’s in the news that really attracts the people who are trying to steal the money from the people of Texas.”
Bernsen says TWC has flagged 6% of claims as suspicious. That’s dramatically higher than usual. He says that number will probably go down as those claims are investigated, and some are found to be legitimate.
The most common type of unemployment claim fraud takes the form of identity theft, Bernsen says.
“We get constant calls. People, they get the letter from us that someone’s applied for benefits online and they say, ‘I never applied for benefits,'” he said.
Businesses also receive erroneous letters indicating current employees have applied for unemployment. TWC uses internal checks to verify claims before benefits are paid, he says.
Fraud causes problems for TWC, but also for those whose names are used to falsely claim unemployment benefits.
“Later on, you need those benefits. Say, you lose your job down the road and you try to apply for benefits, and it turns out someone is getting your benefits, eventually you’ll get your benefits, but it’s going to delay the process,” Bernsen said.
Bernsen says the number of fraud attempts and the volume of unemployment claims overall make it difficult for the agency to respond quickly to all fraud reports. But, he says, individuals should file fraud reports when they believe their name has been used to falsely claim benefits.