PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) -- When Lorey Blevins lost her part-time job, she tried to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but wasn't able to set up an account.

"It's been stressful, extremely stressful," she told 3 On Your Side. "I can’t tell you how often I have to apologize on a daily basis that I can’t pay my bills."

At first, Blevins thought she had made a mistake with her user name or password for Arizona's Department of Economic Security website. But when she contacted the agency, which oversees the unemployment program, Blevins found out someone using an address in Michigan had already made a claim in her name.

"I just lost my mind," she said. "I was like, 'Please tell me that you did not just say that.' And [the DES employee] was like, 'Yes, ma'am.' And I said, 'How is this possible?'"

Blevins immediately filed a fraud claim.

"I’ve begged [DES] to tell me, 'please tell me that you’re not getting in touch with these people who have frauded me,'" she said.

Lou Molinari has also struggled to get answers after he filed reports for fraudulent claims made in his name in Arizona and Alabama.

"I got to the fraud line, spoke to a representative, and the rep said basically, 'You have to wait for someone to call you back,'" Molinari recalled.

According to Brett Bezio, a spokesperson for DES, the agency's fraud center receives between 200 and 600 calls daily. Bezio says every single call is answered, but 3 On Your Side has learned the people answering those phones aren't the investigators, and they don't have access to the cases. It's just a line for people to report fraud.

"I'm really confused as to what the purpose of the fraud line is if I can’t call to get information," Molinari said.

According to Bezio, it takes an average of 34 days for someone who's filed a fraud report to receive a call back from an investigator. As 3 On Your Side has reported, more than a million claims have been flagged as potential fraud, and DES Director Michael Wisehart estimates hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid out in fraudulent claims.

"The size and scope of this is very, very tremendous," Wisehart told reporters during a recent briefing.

According to Wisehart, much of the fraud is being carried out by organized crime syndicates, but he declined to provide specific examples.

"These investigations are ongoing and I'm not going to tip off the bad guys that we’re onto them," Wisehart said.

After 3 On Your Side contacted DES, Blevins and Molinari received calls from fraud investigators. The agency told both that fraudulent payments in their names have been shut down. Still, questions remain about the scammers and the personal information they've stolen.

"It's excruciating," Blevins said. "I have days when I wake up that I don’t want to wake up because as soon as I wake up I remember I don’t know what they might have done."

She may never find out, and she says she is still waiting to receive the unemployment benefits she needs.

 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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