AUGUSTA – As part of its effort to investigate, prevent, and stop fraud perpetrated by criminals, the Maine Department of Labor has received some 1,000 reports of potential unemployment imposter fraud that are now under investigation.
Imposter fraud is when a person’s Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states victimized by this criminal behavior and is working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate it.
The Department expects the number of reported claims linked to imposter fraud to increase as the investigation continues. To date, the Department has identified and canceled some 2,200 unemployment claims determined to be fraudulent.
“While fraud is not new or unique, organized criminals across the nation are now targeting unemployment programs expanded during the pandemic in unprecedented ways,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “The Department of Labor takes our responsibility to defend the integrity of Maine’s unemployment seriously and we will continue to work closely with state and federal law enforcement officers to prevent, identify, and rectify cases of fraud wherever they occur.”
In Maine, the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General and U.S. Secret Service are spearheading the Federal investigative effort. The Maine Department of Labor is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, Maine State Police, Maine State Treasurer, U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI to investigate and stop the fraudulent unemployment claims.
An amount paid to potentially fraudulent claims made in Maine remains under investigation and is not yet available. Based on the experience of other states, illegal benefit payments made to fraudulent claims could total in the millions.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office strongly encourages any Maine people who believe their Personally-Identifying Information may be compromised to take precautions.
“The recent increase in unemployment insurance fraud highlights that identity theft in all forms is a persistent threat to Maine consumers,” said Attorney General Aaron M. Frey. “I urge all Mainers to take simple, common-sense steps to protect themselves.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) lists resources on their website to assist consumers with protecting themselves against identity theft and fraud. Individuals can also contact the Consumer Protection Division of the OAG at 1-800-436-2131 or via email at Consumer.Mediation@maine.gov.
Victims of identity theft and fraud will not have to repay unemployment benefits that were illegally applied for using their stolen information. Additionally, if a victim later needs to apply for unemployment benefits, they will still be able to do so.
The Department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employee’s personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft/.
The Department of Labor has taken a series of steps to investigate and prevent fraud and further enhance the security of Maine’s unemployment system. The Department is:
Temporarily pausing benefits for 48 hours this week to allow the Department to remove suspected fraudulent claims;
Reinstating its normal 10-14 day processing time for initial unemployment claims, which had been expedited in response to the unprecedented demands of COVID-19;
Joining a state and federal task force to detect and prevent fraud;
Coordinating with financial institutions to identify suspicious accounts;
Reviewing system changes needed to increase fraud detection; and
Blocking web addresses linked to fraud in Maine and in other states.
The Department of Labor will continue to provide updates as information becomes available.