SAN ANTONIO – Karl Wanke was surprised when he got four letters in the mail from the Texas Workforce Commission addressed to his name but with his neighbor’s address on them. He was even more mystified when he opened the letters.
“I had filed for unemployment,” Wanke said.
Except, he hadn’t.
“I work for myself, and I didnt’ fire myself,” he said.
One of the official letters even showed Wanke had received benefits - which he hadn’t.
“Mine, they were paying $536 a week, which is a nice little chunk of change,” Wanke said.
Someone was cashing in by using Wanke’s identity. And not just him. He said he learned at least six people on his Helotes street had received similar letters from TWC.
The unscrupulous activity hasn’t been confined to his neighborhood, either.
Out of some four million unemployment claims filed during the pandemic, March 2020 through March 2021, TWC said it flagged 373,000 of them as suspicious. In all of 2019, there were about 1,142 claims. For calendar year 2020, that number was 234,268, nearly 7% of the total claims.
“It’s been a big jump, and the majority are ID theft,” said Cisco Gamez of TWC.
Gamez said the vast majority are caught before the money goes out, money TWC is working to expeditiously get to the people who legitimately qualify. But not all of it is caught.
During the pandemic year, TWC said it paid out some $577 million in suspected fraudulent claims. While it’s a fraction of the $44.7 billion paid out in total, it’s still a lot of money potentially in the wrong hands.
“We are working to prevent many, any fraudulent claims from going out because any going out is too much money,” Gamez said.
He said the state is stepping up investigations to recoup the money and to better verify identities. They are also asking for the public’s help to be on the lookout and to not disregard any communications from them whether you truly filed a claim or not.
If you suspect ID theft or fraud, TWC asks that you report it immediately either by going to the designated area on the website or by phone or email.
Wanke reported it, but his worries aren’t exactly over.
“The concern for me is they have your information,” he said.
Experts advise identity theft victims to contact police and put fraud alerts or freezes on their credit reports.
To report unemployment fraud to TWC call 1-800-252-3642 or email fraud@TWC.state.tx.us.