Mississippi auditor reports more than $117M in fraudulent unemployment payments

MISSISSIPPI — The U.S. Labor Department estimate $63 billion was paid out in fraudulent unemployment claims during the early months of the pandemic.

Every state took a hit including right here in the Mid-South.

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State Auditor Shad White said Mississippi’s Department of Employment Security pushed out around $2 billion during the early months of the pandemic in unemployment claims.

But after a recent audit, he said Mississippi paid out more than $117 million in fraudulent claims.

“It’s folks who did everything from maybe accidentally filled out the form thinking they were eligible all the way to people who were willfully trying to defraud the system to get it even though they knew they weren’t eligible and didn’t live in Mississippi,” said White.

White said some of the scammers were international which means the money is not only gone and it’s unlikely the state will ever get it back.

“We responded as a country pushing out a lot of stimulus money, we just have to bear in mind that when we do that increased flow of dollars also increased the temptation for fraud,” he said.

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White said there’s technology the state can use to check whether someone is eligible for unemployment benefits. For example, he said this technology could have been used along with the state’s prison database to determine if unemployment benefits were going to the prison.

He said these preventive measures must be in place before the next recession.

“Looking back on it now, it’s a reminder that if we don’t put this in place, the money just leaves the state. In some situations this unemployment money didn’t just go to someone else in Mississippi who was trying to defraud the system, it went out of the state and didn’t benefit the taxpayers here in Mississippi at all,” said White.

White said the damage isn’t over yet. His office is starting this year’s audit, which would include unemployment’s made from July 2020 to June 2021.

White is expecting this loss will be even higher.

Even if you didn’t receive unemployment, you could still be at risk.

The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South is reporting an uptick in identity fraud.

Daniel Irwin with the BBB said scammers are using stolen identities to collect unemployment benefits from multiple states.

He said most victims don’t realize they’ve been targeted until they receive tax forms for unemployment or notifications from that agency.

“If you haven’t applied to unemployment report suspicious behavior, report suspicious notifications. If you get some type of notification it’s really important to contact that entity directly and find out why you got and then report it,” said Irwin.

The BBB said you should also check your credit score regularly.

Irwin said if your credit score takes a major hit, that’s a sign your identity has been compromised.

The annualcreditreport.com is offering weekly credit checks until next year.

Additionally, the BBB recommends freezing your credit score as well.