By LEAH WILLINGHAM
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Employment Security is seeing an influx of fraudulent unemployment claims, mirroring a concerning trend across the country, Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday.
“These are all through sophisticated networks of criminals who will take your information, apply for unemployment, and then reap your benefits,” Reeves said at a news briefing. “It can have serious consequences for you, and obviously, it can have serious consequences for the system.”
Speaking at the briefing, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said his office received a bulletin from the U.S. Secret Service a month ago warning of an international fraud ring that had been targeting seven states across the country, including Washington state, North Carolina and Florida. The issue has now spread to Mississippi, he said.
Executive Director Jackie Turner of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security said her office is investigating “numerous” cases of suspected unemployment fraud, some stemming from “rings” and “large scale schemes,” and some from “smaller situations” where family members or acquaintances have stolen personal information and filed for unemployment.
Turner wouldn’t say how many cases of unemployment fraud the state has seen, citing pending investigations. The Department of Employment Security is working with Secret Service, the Department of Labor and state Attorney General, among other agencies, to investigate these crimes, Turner said.
The penalty for unemployment fraud can vary depending on the crime, Hurst said. Identity theft is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison, while wire fraud could be punishable by 20 years in prison, Hurst said.
Mississippi has paid out more than $1 billion in unemployment funds through Mississippi’s trust fund and federal cares act dollars, Turner said.
Officials warned the public to guard personal information closely and report fraud immediately to the state by emailing email@example.com.