RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Several Virginians on unemployment are looking for answers after some accounts were compromised.
The problem prompted the Virginia Employment Commission to disable certain online services on Friday as the agency investigated fraud.
In an interview on Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam’s Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy told 8News that the state is still trying to figure out what happened and how many people were impacted.
While unemployment fraud is not a new or unique problem for Virginia, Healy said there was an uptick in reports last week. In response, the VEC suspended online filing of initial claims and transferred those applications to a call center. She said the goal is to prevent further fraud on the front end.
According to VEC Spokesperson Joyce Fogg, initial Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and regular unemployment claims must be called in, though weekly claims can still be filed online.
Desha Harris from Prince William County says she has been waiting for an outstanding issue to be resolved since September without pay. So she was shocked when she received a Facebook message from someone in Strasburg, Virginia, saying that they received correspondence on her unemployment claim in the mail.
“I’ve never been to Strasburg. I don’t know anyone in Strasburg,” Harris said. “So that kind of caught me off guard to know that my address was changed to a place I have no record of.”
Harris did some digging and found out that her banking information had also been altered without her permission. Luckily, she was able to fix the problem before her payments were released.
“My back-pay, if it is approved, will go back to September. That’s a lot of money someone was going to end up with had I not checked,” Harris said.
While the issue is resolved for now, Harris said she’s frustrated that the VEC didn’t flag the issue sooner.
“The lack of communication is what it is so bothersome and the lack of accountability on their part because this was going on for a very long time before they even made an announcement about it,” Harris said.
Ebonie Snow, a claimant from Hampton, said she encountered a similar problem when she tried to file for an unemployment extension back in January. As of Tuesday morning, she said she was still waiting for the issue to be resolved and for her payments to resume.
“I am a single mother so now it has caused me to have to go get food stamps and assistance from the Department of Social Services,” Snow said. “I truly feel like it was an inside job because no one has my social and no one has my pin. Who would have that kind of information to do that?”
Healy said the VEC is actively investigating possible infrastructure problems and limiting who has access to sensitive account information.
However, she said there is still no evidence that the system was hacked.
“The tests that we have done recently we do every single day. It still verifies that our system is very secure,” Healy said.
Healy said the agency is working to verify all banking information that was altered in the last four weeks. In the meantime, she said everyone should double check their accounts and know how to protect them.
In a statement on Tuesday, the VEC shared additional tips, saying in part:
Additionally, customers should never share other identifying information(name, email address, mailing address, phone number, work history, benefits status, etc…)related to their claims filing status or unemployment insurance benefits on social media. Criminals are targeting customers on social media and harvesting data from these platforms for personal information that can be used for claims fraud.Virginia Employment Commission
If you think you have experienced fraud, you can fill out a form online here or call 1-800-782-4001. Payments will be stopped and the VEC will reach out to figure out the next steps.
While Healy said there is currently a backlog of people waiting for more complicated fraud issues to be adjudicated, she said people who recently realized that they had their personal information or bank account changed without their consent do not have to go through the appeals process generally.
She said people in that situation should be able to call the VEC and immediately resume benefits after correcting the information.