HOUSTON - Fraud has skyrocketed in the pandemic. In unemployment alone, the state of Texas suspects it has paid more than $575 million to people who obtained the benefits fraudulently just this year.
"Would be nice if this was an April fool’s joke, but it’s not," says Alisa Murray, who has run her family photography business with no employees and only sometimes will contract workers.
So when she received a letter from the Texas Workforce Commission claiming her employee was laid off and applied for a payout, "It’s absolute fraud for sure. I don’t even know who this person is. I don't know anything about her," says Murray.
Murray’s business isn’t the only one targeted.
"Hurricane Harvey, for example, there was an increase, an uptick in fraud, but what we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, is beyond anything really that anybody’s ever seen, " says James Bernsen with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Bernsen says of the $44.7 billion dollars in unemployment paid out in Texas this year, $577 million is being investigated as fraudulent cases, a problem clearly compounded in the pandemic.
"In 2019, we saw 1,142 cases. In 2020, we saw 234,000 cases. So it’s a dramatic increase," says Bernsen.
"This is just something we don’t need to have to deal with," says Murray.
In the pandemic, Murray’s small business has taken a hit, so this once photographer is now a "Photo-Real Estate-Travel Agent-Gardener-YouTubeHost", who also has to try to right someone else’s wrong.
"My calendar is booked. I don’t have time to go chasing some woman that I don’t know from Adam, who’s trying to steal money from the Texas Workforce Commission. I mean it’s just frustrating," says Murray.
Murray has left phone messages for the Texas Workforce Commission but hasn’t heard back, which actually isn’t uncommon.
"With the thousands and thousands of cases that we're seeing right now, we really want to prioritize our investigators on those actual investigations and to reach back is sometimes not possible," says Bernsen.
Bernsen says the letter is the state’s first line of defense. He says the best way to report fraud is to go to the fraud submission portal on their website at twc.texas.gov and click 'report fraud.'