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Mounting fraud claims taking time to vet, leaving unemployed in tough position

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BATON ROUGE - Last month, the Louisiana Workforce Commission announced it had received a sharp increase in fraudulent claims and would be halting payments on new claims until they could be vetted. 

Chris Defiore is one of the thousands in Louisiana caught up in the mess. His unemployment claim was flagged for fraud about seven weeks ago, and his benefits stopped.

"I'm $1,200 behind on my rent right now," Defiore said.

Defiore says the LWC asked him to provide proof of identity, which he says he has submitted in multiple forms. After reaching out to 2 On Your Side, Defiore says his inquiry was cleared up by Wednesday afternoon and he'd be receiving his benefits in two to three days.

"It's really sad that someone has to do something like this to receive any help," he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the LWC has had its hands full. Last month, it witnessed a drastic increase in unemployment insurance claims - over 32,000 in two weeks. It's been reviewing all new unemployment claims for validity and it's taking some time. Since then, 8,400 cases previously flagged for needing additional identification have been reviewed,  and another 1,500 are awaiting staff review.

"We're working diligently and quickly to get them their unemployment as soon as possible," Louisiana Workforce Commission Press Secretary Justin Bennett said.

For many, it's not moving fast enough and can be discouraging during a time when they are struggling to put food on the table or make rent.

In November, before LWC's fraud announcement, 2 On Your Side met Drew Enlund. In July, Enlund was informed by his employer that someone had applied for unemployment using his identity. It was reported to various agencies, including the Louisiana Workforce Commission. It wasn't until a few weeks later, when Enlund was furloughed and had to apply for benefits himself, did he learn that his fraudulent claim was never investigated. It prevented him from getting his unemployment benefits promptly.

"It's obvious that somebody was sleeping on the job at LWC," Enlund said.

For weeks, Enlund was wrapped up in proving his identity while someone somewhere else had been enjoying benefits on his behalf.

"They needed some additional information for my new, legitimate claim," he said. "A couple pieces of identification, which to me was quite ironic since I didn't need that on the front end or the people that filed the claim on the front end didn't need it."

He finally received those benefits in December and was able to catch up on some bills. 

"There is no sense of urgency," he said. "There are thousands of people who require this benefit. They've paid for this benefit their entire lives. They owe it to the population."

Throughout the pandemic, 2 On Your Side has received inquiries from claimants who have been waiting for benefits and forwards each one to LWC for review.


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