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Bogus jobless claims used personal data of current city employees

Fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits have been filed using the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of more than 100 city of Chicago employees, triggering a federal investigation amid concern about a breach of city computer systems.

The scam didn’t work. When the Illinois Department of Employment Security called City Hall to verify that the employees were recently laid off, the state was told they were still working. No benefits were paid. Chicago taxpayers were not charged a dime.

But, questions remain about how sensitive information was obtained about more than 100 city employees.

“The affected employees worked in several different departments and, thus far, we have determined that the security breach does not appear to be connected to any city [computer] systems,” First Deputy Human Resources Commissioner Christopher Owen wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Owen disclosed that the U.S. Department of Labor has launched an investigation “regarding the fraudulent use of identities” in an attempt to collect jobless benefits that average $320-a-week for 26 weeks and max out at $560-a-week for the highest earners.

“More than 100 city employees have been affected...The Department of Human Resources is working with the impacted employees,” Owen wrote.

“We have provided them information on how to protect their identity and credit, including information on how to request a credit report and make a fraud alert with credit reporting agencies. Employees are also provided information on working with the [state] fraud unit and instructed to file a police report. We have also provided information to [the Il. Department of Employment Security], referred the matter to the Office of the Inspector General, and are sending a letter to all City employees to be aware and remind them of precautionary steps they can take to protect their credit and identity.”

Greg Rivara, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, refused to comment on the investigation or talk specifically about “any employer or employee.” He would only say that the system worked.

“When an application for unemployment insurance is made, among the verification checks the department makes is to reach out directly to employers. They have the opportunity to accept or challenge any claim,” Rivara said.

“If in the challenge of a claim the reason is potential fraud, the department refers those cases to the appropriate investigative body, most often the U.S. Department of Labor.”

Last month, the WTTW-TV program “Chicago Tonight,” reported that fraudulent claims for jobless benefits had been filed for five employees of the Cook County Sheriff’s office, eight employees of the Cook County Assessor’s office and one or more workers at the Cook County Board of Review.

The phony Cook County claims prompted “great concern” that the county or state computer system had been hacked, according to the report.

Email: fspielman@sunties.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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