COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Jessie Dyer is one of thousands of Ohioans who have had their pandemic unemployment benefits suspended.
“There was no mail or online correspondence,” Dyer said. “There was simply this issue that stated fraud with no explanation and my payments just suddenly stopped.”
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services officials say they suspended 276,000 accounts as part of a massive fraud investigation. “These are not small operators,” said Bruce Madson, ODJFS Assistant Director. “These are large scale fraudsters who can drain a lot of public dollars very quickly.”
State officials say the fraud involves using stolen identities to file claims for benefits. Investigators determined scammers were directing the benefits to accounts at a number of specific financial institutions. So the state suspended all benefits to accounts in those banks.
ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall says they believe 80 to 90 percent of those accounts will prove to be fraudulent. “We needed to act quickly to sort of stop the bleeding effectively and monitor those dollars heading out the doors,” Hall said.
The crackdown comes at the expense of some legitimately unemployed Ohioans who are now being asked to, once again, verify their identity and their bank account in order to lift the benefit suspension.
Dyer estimates she has spent 8 hours on the phone with ODJFS so far trying to clear the hold on her account. “I am bouncing checks because my bills are set up to automatically draft from my bank account,” Dyer said. “We’re talking about people’s lifeline right.”
Director Hall says ODJFS is working to add more customer service staff to help handle the calls from claimants like Dyer.
State officials say losses from similar fraud schemes in other states have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.