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Unemployment Fraud Complaints Soar 2000% For Illinois Department Of Employment Security; Not Counting Pandemic Assistance Fraud

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Weekly unemployment numbers come out later this morning, just in time for yet another CBS 2 story about the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

We're Working for Chicago, with reporting that won't stop until we find answers about unemployment fraud that viewers continue to tell us about.

The Morning Insiders are discovering just how rampant the scams are. CBS 2's Lauren Victory shares the unbelievable number of cases.

"Something's very wrong," Cindy Pille said.

She knew she couldn't be the only one curious about the debit card she received from IDES, with unemployment benefits for her literal angel of mother. Shirley Pille died two years ago.

"This isn't something she'd appreciate," Cindy said.

After CBS 2 aired that strange tale of strange mail, mother of three Priscilla Zawislak reached out to CBS 2 with a similar story.

"It wasn't my identity, it was my late husband's," she said.

Then we heard from Linda Wasik's daughter, Grace.

"My dad received a letter that someone applied for unemployment in my deceased mother's name," she said.

A stack of money never asked for.

Now, questions are piling up:

"I feel like, financially, I had just gotten where I need to be. Just paid off a car loan, and I'm finally feeling comfortable again, and now I'm scared," Priscilla said. "Is my identity going to be stolen? Is it just my husband's identity that they're attempting to steal?"

"If they have access to mine, did they get access to my child's?" Grace said.

"I tried endlessly to find information on what do you do?" Priscilla said.

Hurry up and wait, we guess.

While IDES has promised it is "aggressively cracking down on this fraud network" with a "dedicated team of staffers," CBS 2 discovered just how overwhelmed these fraud fighters must be.

They're assessing more than 14,000 identity theft claims in five months; compared to 651 fraud reports during the same time last year. That's a more than 2,000% increase in workload.

But there's more. So much more: 107,000 more identity theft claims that came through under a new federal benefit called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

"They said they would reach out one more time, and they never did," Grace said.

She missed a phone call from investigators.

Priscilla said she never got one, only an email.

Despite very specific questions asking about a security breach, money lost, and more, the department responded to us with blanket news releases.

Those press releases said IDES is working with local and federal authorities to investigate fraud. That includes a recent partnership with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The idea there is to detect improper payouts at the bank level. Think: monitoring accounts for an unusual amount of deposits from state unemployment insurance programs.

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