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Vermont stopped online unemployment claims after fraud spike

May 3, 2021 GMT

The Vermont Department of Labor stopped accepting new online applications for unemployment benefits last week after its system was receiving nearly 3,000 new claims a day, more than 90% of them fraudulent, Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said Monday.

The department on Friday said it would no longer accept online first-time claims for unemployment benefits. Residents were told to file their claims over the phone. The change dropped the number of new claims by about 90%.

“The hardest part is that these fraudsters have a lot of data points on individuals’ identities,” Harrington said. “It looks like a real person, it feels like a real person, but in the end it’s not.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic Vermont didn’t have a dedicated fraud unit and the department dealt with between five and 10 cases of identity fraud a year. That changed when the pandemic hit.

Harrington said unemployment insurance fraud has been a problem across the country that law enforcement has linked to national and international criminal organizations that could be using peoples’ personal information that was stolen many years ago.

He didn’t have an estimate of how much money has been paid out fraudulently in Vermont. He said it’s likely hundred of thousands, “if not millions of dollars.”

Despite the successes of the fraudsters, Harrington said the system has prevented millions of dollars in false claims from being paid.

“It has been certainly a completely new world and learning curve for our team as well as just (unemployment insurance) programs across the country who just never really had to deal with this type of coordinated effort,” Harrington said.

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MOTOR VEHICLES

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles is considering whether to reopen a number of regional offices across the state that were closed during the early days of the pandemic.

DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli says they are in the process of evaluating the future of offices in St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Middlebury, Dummerston, and White River Junction.

Offices in Bennington, Rutland, Newport, South Burlington and Springfield are open by appointment only.

The pandemic spurred significant improvements to online services, such as license renewals and some vehicle registration services, that has reduced demand for in-person services.

Minoli has said the reopening of satellite locations is dependent on how things go in the locations that are open.

“Accessibility and user-friendliness are at an all-time high, with additional online systems and services that were developed throughout the pandemic to enable customers to do their business right at their own computer,” Minoli said in an email to the Caledonian Record.

Among the services now available online are online vehicle registration and standard learner’s permit tests. Commercial learner’s permits tests must still be taken in person.

Driving tests still must also be taken in person.

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NUMBERS

On Monday the Vermont Department of Health reported 31 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 23,150.

There were 15 people hospitalized, including four in intensive care.

The state reported one additional fatality, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 248.

The Associated Press is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 116.29 new cases per day on April 17 to 78.57 new cases per day on May 1.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 1.57 deaths per day on April 17 to 0.43 deaths per day on May 1.