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CBS 2 Exclusive: State Has Changed Policy To Try To Prevent Random Social Security Numbers Being Mailed To Strangers, But The List Of Victims Has Grown Longer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The list of victims is getting longer – the unlucky residents whose names and Social Security numbers were shared with strangers by the State of Illinois.

It is a glitch the state promised to shore up. But as CBS 2's Chris Tye found Monday, it's getting worse before it gets fixed.

Scammers are using retirees as pawns to unlock millions of dollars in a vulnerable unemployment system. The state unemployment office took the bait – as just Monday, that office took on massive, new multimillion-dollar responsibilities.

As of last week, we had learned of 16 occasions where the Illinois Department of Employment Security sent full names and Social Security numbers to complete strangers.

"I was in disbelief," a man named Joe from Alsip said last week.

"I found it appalling," said a woman named Diane from Chicago.

The letters sent to Joe and Diane were dated Dec. 14. But CBS 2 has now learned another batch of letters with names and Social Security numbers was sent out the following Monday, Dec. 21, as well.

On Wednesday, Dec. 23, the State of Illinois thanked CBS 2 for alerting them to the scam aimed at unlocking unemployment dollars. Our reporting led to a policy change, and the state will no longer sent mail that includes full Social Security numbers.

But given that Mondays are the days the letters were generated and IDES sends out 400,000 pieces of mail weekly, we asked the state if they can be certain that another batch did not go out this Monday, Dec. 28.

We had not heard back late Monday afternoon. Neither has Joe heard back from state investigators after receiving 11 such letters.

On Monday, Joe was sending back his 11 letters, along with a letter he wrote himself – roundly chastising the state unemployment system for the gaffe and for its inability to help him fix the problem it created.

"You don't send out the full nine-digit SSN," said Governors State University Professor Bill Kresse.

Kresse teaches students how to detect fraud. He said the state should never send full Social Security numbers – period, under any circumstances.

CBS 2 wanted to know if other state departments are also stopping the mailing of all nine digits. By late Monday, the state could not confirm.

Kresse said there are ways to ensure accuracy without exposing risk.

"Send out the last four digits," he said. "There are 10,000 possibilities there."

With President Donald Trump having signed the stimulus bill, IDES will be in charge of handing out millions of dollars in fresh unemployment dollars.

In a news release on Monday, IDES heralded the multiple programs set up in record time during the pandemic. But there was no mention of the Social Security number gaffe, nor of the thousands of people waiting weeks for a simple callback from the IDES office.

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