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Woman Finally Gets Job After 10 Months, But Is Now Being Ordered To Pay State $31,000 Back -- And Blames Fraud

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Christina Hill finally got a job after 10 months of unemployment – but now, she is getting letters saying she should never have gotten unemployment money and she owes $30,000 back to the State of Illinois.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, this puzzling tale could be tied to yet another case of unemployment fraud.

When the clock struck midnight on New Year's, Hill never could have predicted the challenges of 2020.

"So I actually lost my job in January," she said. "I was laid off."

Hill applied for and was approved for unemployment benefits. And then COVID-19 hit, and it hit Hill personally.

"I wouldn't wish this on anyone," she said.

She fought off the virus at a New Lenox hospital in April. Hill shared her story in the spring with CBS 2 – oxygen tubes in her nose.

"It took me quite a while to recover to the point where I could look for another job," she said.

At least Hill had secured the unemployment benefits.

"It's 2020 – anything is possible," she said.

Last month, Hill finally landed a new job. But in late November, she was surprised to get a notice apparently from the Illinois Department of Employment Security stating she was actually not eligible for any of the benefits she got earlier this year – and she owes more than $31,000 back to the state.

Last week, she got another letter saying she owes more than $3,000 back by Christmas Day, or IDES could use "all legal actions for recovery."

"I can't even believe it. It upsets my stomach. I can't even believe that they would be this, you know?" she said. "Irresponsible for this to happen."

So what prompted the letters? Hill said she was the victim of unemployment fraud.

During the first week at her new job, Hill got a different notice from the IDES and a call from her former employer, saying someone had filed a new unemployment claim in her name. But she said it wasn't her, and now she suspects the state is confusing her legitimate claim from January with the fraudulent one from November.

"I know that they're probably so overwhelmed, you know, with what's going on and people filing claims and, you know, and everything, but I think now, at this point, they should have a handle on it," Hill said.

We have reported other cases of fake claims causing real problems. We have also reported there have been about 297,000 fraudulent claims in Illinois.

As for Hill, she is now in the state's infamous callback queue.

"The punches keep coming and 2020 is not over yet, so I'm just trying to figure out what else is going to happen," Hill said.

She would like this year to end on a good note – putting her IDES troubles behind her.

We asked the state why Hill is getting the letters, and they said they can't comment on individual cases. They said people with concerns about their claim should call and enter the queue, which Hill has already done.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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