By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) –  Leaders with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment joined members of the Attorney General’s Office and other agencies for a virtual video call on Tuesday to discuss the growing cases of fraud in the state for benefits claims. CDLE staff explained that the number of cases they believe to be fraud are just as many as the legitimate claims for unemployment insurance.

(credit: CBS)

“As you would imagine the amount of resources and time that goes into fraud detection, fraud prevention, investigation, and enforcement is competing with our main mission,” said CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela. “Giving out benefits to people who really need financial assistance because of a wage loss.”

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Since the pandemic began, the department has received more than 1 million claims for unemployment. But staff shared on the call they have also seen another one million cases of potential fraud. To help control the situation, the indicators they use to place holds on claims has gone up from five factors to 50.

“It’s a pandemic right now and everybody’s out here struggling whether they got laid off from work or not,” said Leandro Gonzales, a former restaurant worker. “They need to help Coloradans fix the system because it’s broken.”

Gonzales is one of many CBS4 viewers sharing their frustration daily at the inability to collect their unemployment benefits. He says since September he has been unable to get consistent payments while he continues to look for work and pick up some temporary jobs.

(credit: CBS)

“I’m going to be out here getting a job so I can put food on the table and pay my bills,” he said on a video conference call with CBS4. “I’m out here trying my hardest to get back working and everything.”

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office was also on the call explaining the issues related to data security and that they’ve seen 119 data breaches in the last year. They report that Colorado is the 13th highest state in the country for data breaches and $65 million dollars was lost in all cybercrime.

Challenges with fraud for unemployment are not unique to Colorado, experts on the call said this is the most significant increase in identify theft they’ve seen. They encourage the public to get free credit reports and consider a fraud alert or credit freeze when necessary.

CDLE staff also explained that when a federal program to pay for unemployment benefits expired in December that also created a large spike in the state unemployment insurance program. The department also launched a new system in January, which has added to the delay. But CDLE says their confident a lot of those claims they’ve flagged as fraud are accurate because only a fraction have asked to release their hold.

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“I know as a victim of identity theft you feel violated and you have,” Barela said on the call. “We know it’s a priority of ours to handle that and we’re working on that.”

If you think you’re the victim of fraud, you need to report the issue online. Barela explained that their staff answering phones cannot help with those cases and they are focused on addressing issues related to valid claims of unemployment.

(credit: CBS)

But for Gonzales and others trying to get the money they need to maintain a home and cover expenses, these delays are unacceptable.

“We’re all out here and trying to get by and get what was rightfully earned, and they keep saying to wait, wait, wait and we wait patiently and there’s nothing,” he said.

Fraud Resources:

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Shawn Chitnis