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Local government workers, still on the job, find names used for unemployment claims

Local government workers, still on the job, find names used for unemployment claims

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Unemployment insurance fraud is hitting government workers who are still at work.

Recently, Washington County was informed that 11 workers — still on the clock — had filed for unemployment insurance.

None of them knew about the claims. It turned out a hacker had used their identities to collect unemployment insurance.

In Moreau, four town employees’ identities were also stolen for unemployment insurance claims.

Saratoga County has had claims too. Moreau Supervisor Todd Kusnierz estimated the total at 12 now.

“It’s more than an insignificant number,” he said.

In Washington County, the total now is 20 people.

Warren County has had 48 county employees, dating back to November, who have had fraudulent unemployment insurance claims filed using their identities, said county spokesman Don Lehman.

The employer must file a formal dispute for every fraudulent unemployment insurance claim. Then the state Department of Labor must investigate.

It’s been happening so often to Washington County employees that county Treasurer Al Nolette can file a dispute in minutes.

“I have a form letter now. I change the name and date,” he said.

Nolette spends more time advising each employee.

“It’s the potential of the abuse. Not only am I worried about the unemployment fraud, you worry about the identity fraud,” he said.

He urges employees to lock down their credit. But he learned that can have impacts: his wife could not apply for a store credit card when she was offered one while shopping recently.

When someone locks their credit, they cannot unlock it until they provide a specific code to the credit bureaus. It’s not something that can be done at a moment’s notice from a store, but it can be easily done for planned purchases, such as for a car or a house.

Nolette and County Attorney Roger Wickes were among the people whose identities were stolen.

“It’s a statewide problem,” Wickes said.

Saratoga County put out a warning to all employees in February, urging them to check their credit due to the fraudulent unemployment claims. Their fear was that employees would see fraudulent credit cards and loan applications on their credit.

If that went unnoticed, it could lead to a financial nightmare, Kusnierz said.

“I personally would recommend people take a look at their credit rating and monitor it on a regular basis,” he said.

He has asked the state where hackers got the information for the unemployment insurance claims.

“The security breach, we’ve been told, is not from the town, it’s not from the county,” he said. “It’s happening in the private sector, too, they’re just not talking about it.”

It could have a future cost. Most municipalities and private companies pay unemployment insurance based on the previous year’s claims. It’s not yet clear whether the fraudulent claims will be counted against them for that calculation next year.

So far, Moreau hasn’t gotten a response to its official dispute of each claim, Kusnierz said.

“I know that they’re receiving a lot, so they’re stretched thin on this. So we don’t hear back from them,” he said.

That’s one problem Washington County won’t face. The county is self-insured, so it pays every unemployment claim directly. It has not paid out on any of the fraudulent claims.

Still, each claim has led to more warnings to employees.

“It definitely reminds you to be diligent,” Nolette said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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