OKLAHOMA CITY – Federal officials revealed that Oklahoma and at least six other states have been targeted by a group of international fraudsters who have “mounted an immense, sophisticated attack on U.S. unemployment systems,” The New York Times reported Sunday.
The fraudsters have created a network that already has “siphoned millions of dollars in payments that were intended to avert an economic collapse, according to federal authorities,” the Times wrote.
The attackers “have used detailed information about U.S. citizens, such as Social Security numbers that may have been obtained from cyber hacks of years past, to file claims on behalf of people who have not been laid off, officials said. The attack has exploited state unemployment systems at a time when they are straining to process a crush of claims from an employment crisis unmatched since the Great Depression” of the 1930s, the Times reported.
In a memo obtained by The New York Times, investigators from the U.S. Secret Service “said they had information suggesting that the scheme was coming from a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring...” The Secret Service memo said Washington State had emerged as the primary target so far, “but there was also evidence of attacks in Oklahoma, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Wyoming,” the Times wrote.
NEARLY 15K FICTITIOUS CLAIMS FILED IN OKLA.
To date, 14,856 claims filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) have been identified as fictitious, with many more falling into that category, agency spokesman Trey Davis said Monday. The agency is seeking additional information on thousands of claims to assist in completing the processing of each.
Almost $587 million in total benefits have been paid to Oklahoma claimants during the COVID-19 crisis, with more than 410,000 individuals filing for unemployment relief by the week ending May 9.
“The agency continues to resolve issues regarding claims with pending eligibility concerns,” said David Ostrowe, state Secretary for Digital Transformation. “While myriad issues can cause a stop to occur on a claim, OESC is working as fast as humanly possible to identify and resolve each and everyone.”
Jobless claims filed in Oklahoma during the week ending May 9 were 65% fewer than the staggering record number of claims filed the previous week, the OESC announced.
For the week ending May 9, unadjusted initial claims in Oklahoma totaled 32,794, a decrease of more than 61,000 claims from the number filed the previous week. The OESC reported that an adjusted record 93,885 unemployment claims were filed during the week that ended May 2; that number was revised upward from an initially reported total of 68,237 claims.
The initial claims report is unadjusted for the week ending the Saturday prior to the official numbers that are released every Thursday, OESC spokesman Trey Davis said. “When the next week rolls around, the unadjusted figure is adjusted to account for contributory factors.” Each week, the adjusted figure may change by several thousand, he said. The adjusted number for the week ending May 2 “was certainly one for the record books, as that week’s unadjusted number was also record-setting.”
Until the concurrent crises of the coronavirus and the collapse of the oil and gas industry, the previous one-week record for unemployment claims filed in Oklahoma was 9,778 filed one week in January 1991, OESC records reflect. (The number of drilling rigs operating in Oklahoma on May 15 was 12, compared to 103 a year ago, Baker Hughes reported.)
The number of Southwest Oklahomans who filed for unemployment benefits in April included 6,400 in Comanche County, 289 in Kiowa County, 848 in Jackson County, 1,927 in Stephens County, 285 in Cotton County, 376 in Tillman County, and 52 in Harmon County, records show.
It’s too early to consider the latest number a trend, Ostrowe said May 14. “We’re hopeful the incredible numbers of job loss and business closures will begin reversing course now that Oklahoma is moving into Phase II of Governor Stitt’s reopening of the state. Our neighbors are ready to get back to work and jump-start our economy.”
JOBLESS RATE 15.7%, WORST SINCE DEPRESSION
Nationally, seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 2,981,000, a decrease from the previous week’s revised level of 3,176,000. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the country was 15.7% for the week ending May 9 – the most severe joblessness since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The rollout of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance will provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to individuals who exhaust- ed regular unemployment insurance benefits. These claims may be backdated as far as March 29 and continue through the week ending December 26.
Recipients also are receiving $600 in additional benefits paid out across the spectrum from regular unemployment claims to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants who don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits.
PUA is intended for gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and claimants who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits and are out of work due to COVID-19-related job loss or business closure.
Businesses may be struggling with trying to reopen at a time when some employees are reluctant to return to work due to the continued threat of COVID-19. While the concern is valid, those individuals who do not fall within an identified risk group are expected to return to work or accept work when it is available.
“Unemployment claimants should be aware that not returning to work when recalled or when work is available could potentially be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits,” advised Cyndi Phillips, OESC chief of staff.