CLEVELAND (WJW)– A growing number of Ohioans are learning they’re the victims of identity theft as they receive 1099-G forms showing someone fraudulently filed for unemployment benefits using their names.
Harry Hollingsworth, 99, of Strongsville, hasn’t worked in more than three decades. His children were shocked to learn someone filed for unemployment benefits last year using his name.
“It was a big surprise to the entire family,” said Jim Hollingsworth, his son.
He said his father received a 1099-G tax form last week, reporting someone received more than $3,000 in state unemployment benefits in Harry’s name. The benefits are traditionally delivered via direct deposit to a bank account or debit card.
“They’ve got a system that’s clearly broken and no-one seemed to try to bother to fix it,” Jim said.
The unemployment fraud is so widespread, even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, his wife, Fran, and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said they were targeted.
“If they filed something in your name, they probably have information about your identify that may impact other areas of your life, so make sure you’re protected,” Husted said at a news conference last month.
The Ohio Department Of Job And Family Services said it’s flagged a staggering 796,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claims for potential fraud out of 1.4 million PUA claims filed in the state last year.
The agency suppressed the mailing of 1099-G forms in 166,000 cases, but hundreds of thousands of forms are likely still going out to victims, according to spokesperson Tom Betti. He said 62,000 Ohioans had reported identity theft to the department by Monday morning.
The 1099-G form arriving in mailboxes is the first notice victims are receiving alerting them that their identities have been stolen.
Betti said everyone receiving one should report identity theft online at unemployment.ohio.gov, allowing ODJFS to flag the case and issue a corrected tax form.
Generally, you should not include unemployment benefits you did not apply for as income on your tax returns, according to the Ohio Department Of Taxation. The state also urges victims to take steps to protect their identities, including by reviewing their credit reports for fraudulent activity and adding fraud alerts to them.
“With all the national data breaches we have seen over the years, it’s more than likely people’s identities were compromised in those national data breaches. What I can tell you is the state of Ohio computer systems is not the origination of these compromised identifies,” Betti said.
Betti said the PUA system, which opened unemployment to additional workers amid the pandemic, did not have the same checks and balances as traditional unemployment, in which employers are contacted for verification. He said the federal government added security to the system in the latest COVID-19 relief package passed in late December.
State and federal investigators are looking into the fraud, according to Betti. He said ODJFS expects to report a total number of fraud victims – and the total amount of taxpayer money paid out to fraudulent claims – to the U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday.
“The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is working with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General and other state and federal law enforcement on this nationwide fraud unemployment issue,” Betti said.
Jim Hollingsworth said he reviewed his father’s credit reports and placed fraud alerts on them. He said, thankfully, he has not yet found signs of other fraudulent activity.
“The issue is someone got his Social Security number, and I don’t know how they got it,” he said.
He said more safeguards should have been in place to prevent this fraud in the first place.
“My concern was, how did this happen?” Hollingsworth said.