HOUSTON - A Houston woman learned someone was trying to steal $7300 in unemployment benefits in her name.
The Texas Workforce Commission says it's now having to try to reclaim $32 million in benefits from fraudulent claims or people who put incorrect information on their forms.
The Federal Trade Commission warns that criminals, possibly overseas, are filing claims for unemployment insurance using personal information they somehow stole from people who haven't lost their jobs.
"It was a substantial amount and knowing there are families out there who could actually use these funds, and here I am just getting it free in the mail," said Brandi Wallace.
Wallace says she was at work when she received a notice from the TWC that she was getting $7300 in unemployment benefits she says she never applied for.
"That was definitely the first red flag. Before then, I didn't receive anything at home or anything in the mail stating that I had filed myself," said Wallace.
She and her supervisor, Kevin Brotherton at Top Notch Freight Systems, say they tried to report it to the TWC. Plus, Brotherton worried the business would have to cover the cost of the insurance claim.
"Am I going to have to be penalized? Is this going to be something I'm going to have to deal with in the future?" he asked.
They notified us about the issue and we asked the TWC to investigate.
"After reaching out to you, that day and the next day we had the claims department talking to us and handling it and come to find out it was just that, fraudulent activity," said Brotherton.
Cisco Gamez with the TWC says fraudulent claims usually spike when disaster unemployment insurance is offered.
"Historically the fraudulent identity theft rate is about 1.2% of the total claims filed. There is some fraud that happens, unfortunately. Since January 1st, we identified and confirmed and locked 738 identity theft fraudulent claims. Over 68% of those occurred in April," said Gamez.
He explained that TWC uses a detection tool that locks suspicious claims when they're filed, but doesn't catch them all.
"If a claim is deemed high risk, the claimant has to contact our investigations department to be identified before the claim will proceed," said Gamez.
Now Wallace is left to worry what else the thief may do with her information.
"Is my credit an issue now? What other information do they have about me or my family or anything like that? So it's very scary. It's a very scary situation," she said.
Possible signs someone may have stolen unemployment benefits include receiving a notice from TWC or not being able to collect benefits when you apply. If you suspect fraud, you can report it to the TWC Fraud Hotline at 1-800-252-3642.
Victims should also visit IdentityTheft.gov and place a freeze or fraud alert on their credit.
Here is more helpful information from the TWC on fraud: