OLATHE, Kan. – The state of Kansas is reportedly seeing an uptick in the number of fraudulent unemployment claims, and it’s causing headaches for some people in the metro.
Pat Howell is the owner of Universal Communications, an Olathe-based company that installs fiber optic cable. Deemed essential, Howell and his employees have remained on the job — even during the height of the pandemic.
So you can imagine his surprise when he received a notice from the Kansas Department of Labor saying that an unemployment claim had been filed in his name.
“My first thought was what to do because that’s never happened before,” he recalled.
Someone had filed for unemployment and for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance using Howell’s information, with pending approval of more than $30,000 from the state.
“That’s a huge amount of money,” he said.
Howell said he tried calling the number listed on one of the documents to dispute the claim but never got an answer.
“That was the most frustrating part,” he said. “I tried it at 7 in the morning before they opened and was unsuccessful.”
A spokesperson with the Kansas Department of Labor would not share the exact number cases the state is investigating, but he did confirm fraudulent unemployment cases are on the rise.
“This type of fraud is normal identity theft being applied to unemployment claims,” Jerry Grasso wrote in a statement to FOX4. “This is happening nationwide and is not a Kansas-specific issue.”
The Missouri Division of Employment Security sent a similar response, saying, “cases of suspected unemployment insurance fraud have risen in proportion to the number of unemployment claims.”
“That money is to go to people that are truly unemployed and unfortunately people are taking advantage of that and creating these false accounts,” Howell said.
Howell said someone also opened a checking account in his name in Tennessee, presumably to try and funnel the unemployment money. He immediately did two things that others should do if they find themselves in a similar situation: request a fraud alert on your credit score and notify your bank.
Eventually, Howell was able to reach someone with the Department of Labor via their website. The agency has since opened an investigation.
Both Kansas and Missouri encourage individuals to report any notice of unemployment benefits that they did not apply for or believe to be fraudulent.