OKLAHOMA CITY – Many Oklahomans are voluntarily helping their neighbors during the coronavirus health crisis, by delivering groceries to shut-ins and performing numerous other kindnesses. There have even been reports of some altruistic Americans handing over their $1,200 stimulus checks to less-fortunate neighbors.
But the pandemic, and the government’s response to it, also has brought out a plague of scammers who are trying to game the system.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) has identified 7,572 fictitious claims filed with the agency since March 22, agency spokesman Trey Davis said on May 7. Tens of thousands of suspicious claims that potentially are cases of unemployment fraud are under review by the OESC, the Attorney General, the Oklahoma State Bureau of
Investigation, and the FBI, Davis added.
The Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association office in Oklahoma City reported that a couple of their 1,000-plus members received letters from individuals fraudulently claiming to be former employees who applied for unemployment benefits. The veterinarians challenged the claims “so they weren’t affected,” a spokesperson for the OVMA said.
Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, said May 6 on the floor of the House of Representatives that he has “zero” employees in his law firm, yet nevertheless two individuals filed fraudulent unemployment claims against him.
Cathy Cummings, owner of Vito’s Italian Restaurant in Oklahoma City, said she notified the OESC after she received two fake unemployment claims.
Angel Melvin, owner and chief executive officer of Light Alive Marketing in Lawton, received a fake unemployment claim on May 1 and another on May 4.
Both applications were “almost identical,” she said. “They even had my OESC account number.”
Both letters applying for unemployment benefits carried the same date and the same language, Melvin said.
The letters were signed with different names and included different Social Security numbers, she said. “I have no idea who these people are; I’ve never heard of either one in my life.” Mrs. Melvin has six employees and six contract workers.
She reported both bogus claims to the OESC and to the office of the state Attorney General, who has joined hands with the OESC and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate and prosecute unemployment fraud. “It’s aggravating to have to fight these random, false claims,” Melvin said.
On the flip side of the coin, Mrs. Melvin said one of her friends mentioned a neighbor who received a letter informing her that she would receive the unemployment benefits for which she had applied. However, the neighbor had not filed a claim.
“I feel bad for those people who genuinely need the unemployment money but may not receive it because of all the fraudulent claims,” Melvin said.