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Unemployment Insurance Scammers Targeting Unoccupied Homes

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - The California Employment Development Department (EDD) has admitted to having 1 million claims that are still pending.

But one local woman says she's getting dozens and dozens of claim letters being sent to her vacant home.

They started arriving at her vacant home for sale last month - stacks and stacks of letters from the EDD, according to homeowner Sarah Chambless.

"There were probably 50 letters, just a giant, giant stack of letters. It was from at least half a dozen different names on the letters," she said.

When the first batch came, Chambless wrote "return to sender" and put them back in the mailbox. But the letters didn't stop.

Chambless thinks her house was targeted because no one is living there.

"I think it was clear that we weren't there, alerts to people that new houses have been listed," she said.

Identity theft expert Neal O' Farrell of the Identity Theft Council says that's exactly what likely happened.

"The scariest part is that in a lot of these places, it's not some Russian cyber crime guy on the other side of the world, it's a local ID theft ring for some reason spotted the house and saw it was empty and they may physically show up to collect those forms or debit cards," he said.

O'Farrell says unemployment insurance fraud has always been a problem.

"It's largely just the nature of these state and federal organizations that they don't have the systems or resources in place to catch fraud," he added. "And then COVID came along, and cyber crime and identity just absolutely exploded."

Should government agencies be able to catch something like this?

"The technologies are there, the tools are there, but in many cases it's the funds or the will- they just don't exist," he said.

O'Farrell says if the government eventually catches on and flags the address, it could cause problems for the homeowner if they associate your name with that fraudulent address.

"So maybe the next time you file legitimate paperwork like a tax return, it's going to get held up," he said.

CBSLA's Kristine Lazar looked up some of the names that the letters are addressed to, and they appear to be real people who live in other parts of Los Angeles. O'Farrell says they are likely victims too.

EDD responded that their investigation division is actively looking into this case.

O'Farrell says if this happens to you, make sure to save and document everything, and it's also good to have a paper trail of your efforts to contact the agency in question.

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