Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is teaming up with the FBI to investigate a spate of fraudulent unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Raoul on Friday announced a new task force between his office, the FBI and various law enforcement agencies and groups, including the Illinois State Police, Association of Chiefs of Police, and State's Attorneys Association and U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General’s office.
The pandemic and accompanying recession has spurred a deluge of unemployment insurance claims since March, which the Illinois Department of Employment Security was ill-prepared for. Amongst the mass claims of requests were claims filed by fraudsters.
Personal information stolen from victims was used to fraudulently file for unemployment benefits in their names, unbeknownst to victims until the state began sending letters asking the money to be repaid.
Attorney General Raoul said approximately 350,000 Illinoisians were victimized by the fraud.
“Many of these come about through a concerted effort as a result of likely corporate data breaches,” Raoul said.
Earlier this week, Gov. JB Pritzker said information obtained by corporate data breaches, such as the 2017 hack of Equifax, may have been stored for years before being used.
The taskforce is focused on identifying and prosecuting those fraudsters, and Raoul said he hoped that by joining forces with different agencies, the process will move more expediently.
“In lieu of having independent law enforcement agencies investigating these one by one,” Raoul said. “We connected with the FBI and reached out to our other law enforcement partners to make sure that we worked in concert to share information.”
Raoul also said the taskforce was the result of the department’s participation in other multi-agency collaborations developed throughout the pandemic, such as a commission tasked with investigating cases of price gouging of healthcare supplies.
Republican lawmakers in the Illinois House have for weeks pushed the administration to take on a more proactive role against unemployment fraud.
State Rep. Mike Marron (R-Fithian) last month stood outside IDES’s Springfield office for two days in December, documenting it on social media demanding a meeting with the department’s director. Marron said he believes the taskforce is a positive development.
“Hopefully they can do some good and help stop a lot of the fraud that’s going on out there that’s causing a lot of consternation among my constituents, and other people around the state, and also probably costing the state a lot of money,” Marron said.
However, Marron also said the legislature needs to continue being involved in the process and that issues with IDES are not limited to unemployment fraud.
“The main thing that we’re focusing on in my district office right now are the [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] repayment letters and demands that are going out to a lot of our small business owners,” Marron said.