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Colorado labor department blames spike in new unemployment claims on fraud

Regular initial claims jumped by 16K week-over-week
Posted at 12:57 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 20:58:09-05

DENVER – Officials with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said Thursday they believe many of the 41,439 regular unemployment claims filed the week after Christmas were fraudulent.

The department said that fraud was the most likely cause for the abnormalities in the number of initial claims, which jumped by more than 16,000 from the week prior, but that other factors included a change to a new quarter, seasonal filings and the reopening of claims.

“The Department will be conducting further detailed analysis on the increase and will provide additional updates,” the CDLE said in a news release.

Department officials said earlier this week they believe that fraudsters who had been targeting the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig workers, started targeting the regular unemployment program after the PUA program and other federal unemployment programs expired at the end of December.

"I will tell you that we have seen a pretty significant spike in the individuals reporting into us since Dec. 26 that they believe they’ve been a victim of identity theft and fraud," said Cher Haavind, the deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) on Tuesday.

The fraud is often found in the form of U.S. Bank ReliaCards, which the state uses to send out benefits for people who do not use direct deposit. Victims are often found by fraudsters through purchased identity theft information or other websites.

Phil Spesshardt, the benefits services branch manager for the CDLE, said Tuesday that homeowners or property managers of vacant homes should check the mailboxes often to see if ReliaCards are showing up there, as investigators have seen vacant addresses used for fraud as well.

There have now been more than 1 million unemployment claims made in Colorado since mid-March, including 773,558 regular initial claims. The state has paid out $6.8 billion in the various types of state and federal benefits – about three-quarters of which came from federal programs and money.

The state said earlier this week it was still awaiting full guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before it can start reprogramming the unemployment insurance mechanisms in the latest federal stimulus bill into its system.

The state's unemployment system is currently undergoing an upgrade to streamline the process between state and federal claims, which officials hope to finish up by this weekend and have the system back online by Sunday.

The state is asking people who receive a fraudulent ReliaCard or believe they are a victim of fraud to submit a fraud report on the CDLE’s website, to fill out a U.S. Bank Form and contact the number on the back of the card (1-855-282-6161) to deactivate it, and to contact the three consumer credit bureaus to put a fraud alert on their name and Social Security Number.