DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said Friday it is updating its virtual agent to better streamline the process for employers looking for assistance with fraud questions. This, after CBS4 Investigates inquired about one small business owner’s headache of an experience.

(credit: CBS)

John Stewart owns a general contracting company in the small town of Burlington. Last week, he received several “Notice of Determination” letters in the mail from the CDLE, saying someone by the name of “Dennis Jones Jr.” was claiming unemployment, because he claimed to have been laid off by Stewart’s company. The letter was addressed to Stewart’s company with attention to “Robert Woolen.”

READ MORE: 2 People Shot, Another Killed Outside Broomfield Walgreens

Stewart says he’s never met a Dennis Jones or a Robert Woolen, nor have they ever worked for him. What’s more, Stewart says he was fortunate enough to not have to lay off any employees during the pandemic.

Convinced the letters were evidence of clear fraud, Stewart tried to call the CDLE to straighten out the matter. He called the help line number listed on the notices he received in the mail.

“I was on hold for an hour and 27 minutes, and the lady that answered the phone finally told me that she could not access my account,” Stewart said. “She could access employees, but not employers.”

The notice also said Stewart could fax back an included questionnaire to appeal the claim, and he must do so within 20 days.

Stewart did that, but he says the customer service agent told him there was a serious backlog on faxed paperwork, and that he might have better luck contacting the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

(credit: CBS)

“She told me that the faxes that they’re looking at today were actually received around Christmas time,” Stewart said.

READ MORE: Crash On I-70 In Wheat Ridge Causes Large Traffic Backup

CBS4 asked the CDLE why staff would just now be looking at paperwork faxed to the department in late December. The department sent a written statement admitting the unprecedented number of claims has created a backlog, and the department has hired more staff to alleviate the problem.

The CDLE also said the number listed on the notice is the only for employees and is the wrong phone number for employers to call, and employers should instead call a different help line number: 1-800-480-8299.

Following this report, a spokesperson for the CDLE said the department is making helpful changes for employers seeking assistance, writing in an email to CBS4: “We are updating the Virtual Agent online and in call center IVR with a message directing employers that they do not need to wait on hold and to call 303-318-9100. We will work with the vendor on modifying forms, though our vendor priority continues to be to stand up phase 2 benefits to claimants.”

(credit: CBS)

Regarding the backlog in reviewing faxed paperwork, a spokesperson wrote: “Before we launched MyUI+ and implemented ID.me in January of 2021, claims that were suspected of fraud were individually and manually investigated. With the unprecedented number of unemployment claims last year and the subsequent increase in fraudulent claims, this created a backlog. We automated the process by creating an online fraud reporting form, and we upload that information into MyUI+ on a regular basis to prevent these claims from being paid out. We have also increased the internal staffing of our fraud investigations team to cut down on the backlog, and are working nonstop to investigate each of the claims that require more digging than an identity verification allows. Again, this is a manual process and each case is investigated individually. The 50+ fraud triggers included in the MyUI+ software and the use of ID.me to verify claimants’ identities have become critical tools in stopping fraud before it starts and preventing future backlogs.”

Meanwhile, the CDLE said it would have a customer service agent reach out to Stewart to clear up the fraud claims filed under his company’s name.

“There has been more time wasted than it would take to fix this in one phone call,” Stewart said.

The CDLE also provided the following statement with further information for employers: Please know that after completing the “Submit a Fraud Report” form, the individual may not receive a follow up call from CDLE. While the current volume of fraud reports prevents us from following up individually on every report, our fraud investigators are taking immediate steps to close each fraudulent claim. Since the start of the pandemic, we have tripled the size of our criminal investigative team, with another set of hiring happening now. We understand how unsettling this experience can be. We take any fraud seriously and work daily with law enforcement and other agencies to investigate and prosecute this behavior. 

MORE NEWS: I-70 Eastbound Closed For Fatal Crash East Of Eagle

While we have a page dedicated to fraud on our website here that includes an online form to report fraud, we’re currently working on an additional online form specifically for employers. Employers do not need to call us to report the fraud, simply fill out the online form. However,  we do have dedicated customer service lines specifically for employers, so they can get connected to agents who can access the employer-side of our system. We appreciate your help in directing concerned employers to these numbers: Denver Metro: 303-318-9100 or Toll Free: 1-800-480-8299.

Kati Weis