Mississippi seeing rising cases of unemployment fraud
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Employment Security is seeing an influx of fraudulent unemployment claims, mirroring a concerning trend across the country, Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday.
“These are all through sophisticated networks of criminals who will take your information, apply for unemployment, and then reap your benefits,” Reeves said at a news briefing. “It can have serious consequences for you, and obviously, it can have serious consequences for the system.”
Speaking at the briefing, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said his office received a bulletin from the U.S. Secret Service a month ago warning of an international fraud ring that had been targeting seven states across the country, including Washington state, North Carolina and Florida. The issue has now spread to Mississippi, he said.
Executive Director Jackie Turner of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security said her office is investigating “numerous” cases of suspected unemployment fraud, some stemming from “rings” and “large scale schemes,” and some from “smaller situations” where family members or acquaintances have stolen personal information and filed for unemployment.
Turner wouldn’t say how many cases of unemployment fraud the state has seen, citing pending investigations. The Department of Employment Security is working with Secret Service, the Department of Labor and state Attorney General, among other agencies, to investigate these crimes, Turner said.
The penalty for unemployment fraud can vary depending on the crime, Hurst said. Identity theft is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison, while wire fraud could be punishable by 20 years in prison, Hurst said.
Mississippi has paid out more than $1 billion in unemployment funds through Mississippi’s trust fund and federal cares act dollars, Turner said.
Officials warned the public to guard personal information closely and report fraud immediately to the state by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other developments, the Health Department said Mississippi has had at least 19,799 cases and 895 deaths from the coronavirus as of Monday evening. That was an increase of 283 cases and 4 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier. Mississippi has a population of about 3 million.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Monday that at least 2,215 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 457 virus-related deaths in those facilities.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.