Someone smarter than I collected tens of thousands of dollars in pandemic unemployment benefits in my name; what next?

I got a letter from the Department of Revenue back in Maskachusetts. They were upset that I failed to report $12,600 in coronapanic unemployment benefits received in 2020. As I had not filed for unemployment nor received $12,600, this came as a shock. The claim did not start until mid-October 2020 so it is safe to assume that another $20,000+ was harvested in 2021.

When I tried to log into the Massachusetts unemployment web site with my Social Security number, I found that authorization was required from someone with a phone number ending in 1253 or an email address at, “the most functional webmail in the Arab World”:

My memory of 2020 is dim, so it is theoretically possible that I myself filed for unemployment in 2020. However, it is not possible that I was able to read and write Arabic in 2020. Therefore, due to my illiteracy in Arabic, I’m 99.99% sure that this is a fraud situation.

It is strange that the state couldn’t figure out the fraud by itself. During the purported period of unemployment, the employer (a small LLC) was continuing to make regular payments for unemployment insurance, state income tax withholding, etc. How is it possible that one agency within the state was receiving payments for an employed person while another one was making payments to an unemployed person with the same SSN and a presumably different mailing address? My phone number is readily available. The state government has enough money to pay out tens of thousands of dollars, but not to attempt to make a phone call to the person corresponding to the SSN and ask “Did you actually file for unemployment?” Nor enough money to compare SSNs in two databases?

[The same government that fails to question how someone for whom payroll taxes are being paid regularly can also be “unemployed” and entitled to unemployment checks is the one that we’re supposed to trust regarding how to prevent an aerosol virus that mutates constantly.]

Has anyone else had a similar situation? A friend who employs 25 people in Maskachusetts says that fraudulent unemployment claims were filed for 5 of his employees. I’m thinking that this will take at least 40 hours of time (which otherwise could have been billed to clients at $550 per hour) and $3,000 in fees to my accountant to untangle. So the cost to the U.S. economy of enriching a single Arabic speaker with $12,600 will be at least $37,600. And I will get to do it all over again for 2021. This is another cost of coronapanic lockdowns and everything that flowed from them. A smaller, poorer economy (let’s assume that the $12,600 actually ended up somewhere out of the U.S.) is one in which people will live shorter lives (income being positively correlated with longevity). I’m going to mark this down as evidence for my theory that the lockdowns will end up killing far more Americans than SARS-CoV-2 ever did or ever will. (The biggest killer will be of today’s children, whose adult lives will be shortened because they were deprived of a year of education in the States of Virtue.)

Readers: Any tips for fixing this?

Progress so far:

  • I filed an online fraud report with the Maskachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance
  • I called the customer service phone number, (877) 626-6800, on the Maskachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance web site. All of the state workers are out serving meals at the off-island internment camp for the Vineyard 50, it seems, as the wait time to talk to an agent was 42 minutes (I chose the offered callback option, but was never called back). The agency apparently is not interested in fraud reports as all of the numbers that can be pressed on the phone keypad are advertised as leading to different ways to get more money from the government. There is no mention of an option to (1) stop getting checks, (2) report having found a job, or (3) report fraud.
  • I called the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and waited on hold for about 15 minutes before being connected to an agent. She was able to look up the 1099G and determined that it had been sent to Loganville, Georgia. In other words, it seems that the state was receiving payments for unemployment insurance for someone who was actively employed in Massachusetts while simultaneously sending out money with the same SSN claiming to be unemployed in Georgia.
  • I called the MA Unemployment folks again and waited on hold for 30 minutes before being disconnected.
  • I called the MA Unemployment folks again and waited on hold for nearly an hour before being connected to a lady who explained that the department had allowed people to register for unemployment and request electronic documents. They never had to show up in person, never had to submit any ID (like for voting!), and just received a river of cash (ACH or debit card). The agency never made any attempt to cross-check with reports from employers regarding who had a job, either at the time the money was flying out the door or in a later reconciliation process. Fraud identification is left entirely up to the individual, she explained. Corrected 1099G forms aren’t sent out unless someone requests it and the 1099G correction is entirely manual. So the Massachusetts Unemployment Assistance folks, by leaving all of this inaccurate information out there, create a huge workload for the MA DOR and also for the federal IRS, spawning potentially hundreds of thousands of audits for Biden’s Army of 87,000 (the Spartans managed with 300).
  • The lady connected me to a fraud specialist within the Department of Unemployment Assistance who said that he had no idea how long it would take to issue a corrected 1099G. They would have to “investigate”.


17 thoughts on “Someone smarter than I collected tens of thousands of dollars in pandemic unemployment benefits in my name; what next?

  1. Fascinating tidbit:, at least the home page and its English version, are not https. Initially I tried to connect with Tor and it wouldn’t let me because the login page is unencrypted!

    The behavior of the various state agencies you cite is actually a pretty good example. I’ve been on hold for *hours* at a time. I am afraid that this is the best that it gets and you are going to have to keep trying until you get in touch with a supervisor or someone on a high echelon through other channels who can keep you apprised of the status and will move the ball forward.

    And yes, during the Pandemic especially, the MA DUA/PUA were completely walled-off behind the Internet gates. There were no offices open. There was nobody to see in person. You got in the phone queue with your questions and waited. Once you had an established account, the system was fairly good at keeping you informed of what was going on in terms of notifications and transfers, but again – it is a one-way street. If you have a problem, you get on the phone and take your chances.

    I found that it was a *little* better if you called FIRST THING IN THE MORNING just as the lines go “active.” That reduced the wait time somewhat. You have to be persistent. And I know the background music note for note.

    I would very seriously consider contacting a lawyer who is an expert in identity theft. You need to dig deeper here and make sure you’re really “all clear” even if the Department of Revenue and the DUA people clear it up on their end. This is bad. You also might consider LifeLock.

    • “You also might consider LifeLock”

      Would LifeLock have prevented the MA unemployment compensation fraud against philg? If so, how?

      Would a credit freeze be sufficient?

    • @DP: I don’t believe it would have, but I don’t know about how much information LifeLock has access too. Maybe I wasn’t clear: I mentioned the in the larger context of identity theft. I don’t like to make things sound worse than they are (heh) but if a native Arab-speaker can get thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits in his name, maybe something else is wrong somewhere. I think he should consider it, not necessarily do it.

    • @DP Also, I should say that I’ve been considering it. Their best plan costs something like $300 a year. OK, that’s not nothing. It’s relatively expensive. But you allegedly get $1,000,000 in insurance with that, to hire lawyers and accountants and whatever else you need to reestablish your identity if it is stolen and they cannot fix it.

      I know from the past few weeks of dealing with a major credit card company that you can waste many hours of your life just trying to get a HOLD released on a refund transaction that posted to your account two weeks ago! I had to explain it to their people three times! “The numbers don’t add up. All the transactions have posted but I never got the credit!” Finally they bumped my call up the chain to a supervisor who released the hold, after another 45 minutes on the phone!

      If someone successfully steals your identity and signs up for a bunch of credit cards in your name, I can bet that you really screwed if you’re on your own.

      Not everybody can afford to hire an accountant and a lawyer of their own to handle something like that. And as @philg’s example shows, even the state agencies leave all the fraud protection in the hands of the applicant.

    • Sorry for the multiple posts, @DP: > “Would a credit freeze be sufficient?”

      On one card, maybe, but if you’re talking about freezing all your credit and then tracking down how your identity got stolen all by yourself, I think you’re in for a world of hurt. If it’s a “global freeze” on your credit, you’ve just become a third-class citizen in my opinion, not even an immigrant seeking asylum. You really don’t exist in this country without at least a little bit of active credit; you’re not even a human being. You can’t run your life!

      How do I know? I spent about a decade with a credit rating of approximately zero. You feel like you’re not even alive. I’ve BTDT and never want to go back.

      I was at a hospital recently for a follow-up appointment. The receptionist informed the guy checking in ahead of me: “We’re having a problem with your insurance referral. I’m sure it will be straightened out in a few days, but for this visit you are self-pay. You can pay cash or a major credit card, and we will refund the money once your insurance is in order.” This guy was being treated for a serious condition and I thought he was going to pass out and die right in front of me, he was so upset! He couldn’t believe it! His hands were visibly shaking as he reached for his wallet and fished out a credit card for her to swipe. They were going to tell him to go home and reschedule the appointment once the insurance was straightened out – but she was adamant: if he didn’t pay right then and there, he wasn’t being treated that day, period.

  2. Being famous sux. All the gootube stars are having identity theft problems. Take the good with the bad. At least fake Greenspun isn’t responding to comments with bitcoin offers yet.

  3. You’re absolutely right – nothing that a couple lines of COBOL code couldn’t fix.

    But as you have already discovered (your JetBlue experience)… private industry does a bang up job as well.

    • @LinePilot: +1 to that. In anticipation of an unseasonably harsh winter where I live, I recently bought a set of tires from an online outlet that had a good brand at what I thought was a very good price. It was a place I’d heard from before, and their home page is lavishly decorated with Better Business Bureau / Norton Seals of Approval / Etc., etc.

      The whole story is too long to type here, but suffice it to say that it took two full days with the merchant, all on hold (nobody answered phones, nobody answered chats, nobody answered email.) I figured they had gone belly up and absquatulated to another country with my money. I called the credit card company. I also left a long callback message on their website.

      Suffice to say that over the next three weeks I spent at least eight hours talking to people at the merchant, the credit card company, etc., to get the charges reversed and then the HOLD taken off the amount on my card. Apparently this credit card company wanted to keep that money in their cloud until I browbeat them them into releasing it. I think they would have kept it forever if I hadn’t.

      I’ll bet a lot of these companies have billions of dollars in “holds” that they’re just clinging to as long as they can. So the MA State Organ behavior is pretty much par for the course. They might as well be on the moon.

  4. Yes. We were informed by the RI Dept. of Labor & Training of an unemployment claim by us, that we never made. We entered it into the state police fraud reporting system and have heard nothing since. Except for a notice from the IRS for taxes due on a $1200 stimmy cheque that we never received. Contacting the IRS about this may not meet the criteria of insanity, but it more than fulfills that of futility.

    Hey I’ve got a swell idea — let’s put these clowns in charge of, well — everything!
    What could go wrong? C’mon man…

    When you get a notice of deficiency from the IRS (underpayment, or not paid) you have choices. You can pay it in full immediately, and be done with it. Or you can pay it under duress, and file an inquiry. Or you can not pay it at all, but the agency is not going anywhere. The agency helpfully informs you that choosing option 2 will trigger an audit of your tax return.
    IRS, nice little racket you’ve got going there. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it.

  5. >> It is strange that the state couldn’t figure out the fraud by itself.

    Is it really? The IRS IT system is very antiquated and they do not have enough people to do their job as stated in the law. One party wants to fix the situation (aka “govern”) and the other just wants to blow everything up. Power for power’s sake without an actual plan to fix anything. Anarchy for all!

    Really a very good read about IRS IT:

    • The original post is not about the Federal IRS, which has been, as you say, destroyed by the Science-denying Republicans. It is about two state agencies within Massachusetts, a nearly Republican-free paradise of proper government. Massachusetts collects 11.5 percent of residents’ income in tax for state/local government. The Democrats control the Legislature and could crank this up to 50 percent if that’s what it takes to do government properly.

  6. Your case is one in many (millions?) across the US. In my opinion, it has to be considered in the context of the general incompetence of the government services in this country. If someone gets robbed in El Salvador, the advice should not be “don’t visit X city in El Salvador, it is dangerous…”

    We don’t get what we pay for and we pay a lot.

  7. States paid first and asked questions later. Due to the political and social situation, it wasn’t going to be different.

    They also supplemented their contact center staff with resources from the big consulting companies (Accenture, etc), people of which were neither trained nor instructed to limit fraud.

  8. If a retail bank makes a $20k mistake affecting a checking account you can be sure there will be a serious investigation and people will get sanctioned if incompetence is proven. I don’t think the issue of fraudulent unemployment payments is going to be investigated. Paraphrasing Stalin, “a $20k fraud is a problem for the affected individual, $45B that’s only statistics.”

  9. From a CBS news article about a Cape Cod couple encountering a similar situation: “The Massachusetts Department of Revenue said there is no indication this is a widespread issue, and anyone who received the notice should send a secure message through MassTaxConnect. After reporting the issue to DOR, the taxpayer should then follow up with the Department of Unemployment Assistance by filing a report online or calling (877)-626-6800.” I wanted to know if someone had done this to me, but I am not sure there is any way to find out until you get some delinquency notice as you did? [I think it is more of a widespread issue than they are willing to say? Nothing here, move along, move along…]

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