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Personal information of some unemployed New Yorkers exposed

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: April 27, 2020 05:09 PM
Created: April 27, 2020 10:29 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Frustrations with New York State’s unemployment system are already at an all-time high and now those who are unemployed have to worry whether their personal information has been exposed.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke with a number of unemployment claimants who received paperwork over the weekend that included not only their own personal information but the information of other New Yorkers who are waiting for benefits.

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The paperwork included other claimants’ names, addresses and social security numbers.

Some of those people tell News10NBC they were contacted by the Unemployment Insurance Integrity Unit and promised free credit monitoring and a full investigation into how this happened.

Jason Ostrowski is a singer and actor who is out of work because of the pandemic. He’s been staying with his family in Greece and like so many others, has been trying to claim unemployment benefits for weeks.

He thought he was headed toward a light at the end of the tunnel when a packet of information arrived over the weekend with a determination letter in it from the NYS Department of Labor

“It was like five pages long and when I got to the final page which is how they determined things, it was some other woman's name, her address, her full social security number, where she worked and her quarterly financial information, so I was like, 'Holy cow,'” he told News10NBC.

So, Ostrowski did the honorable thing.

“I found her phone number and I called her and she lives in Syracuse, so I left a message. She called me back. She couldn't believe I was honest enough to call her, she got her letter the day before and the same thing happened to her,” he said.

The same thing also happened to Danielle Karns, a hairdresser in Gates.

“I’m flipping through the pages…this is mine, this is mine and this is mine but this is somebody else's and it was a gentleman in New York City. It has all his information, where he works, his address, his full social security number which... I was kinda mind-blown,” she recalls.  

And then Karns got even more worried, “I think I'm missing that paper that I received of his, I'm missing the copy of mine... so where is mine?”

The answer to that: Likely in the hands of another unemployed worker in New York who's been trying to claim benefits.  

In a statement, Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor tells News10NBC, “A small group of individuals received an errant sheet of paper in a recent mailing due to a mechanical issue with a mail sorting machine—we have been in touch with everyone we know who has been impacted, to provide them with the correct information on their claim and will offer these individuals one year of free credit and identity theft monitoring services."

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff downplayed the scope of the problem at a press conference on Monday:

Gov. Cuomo: "I have not heard about that at all, has anyone heard about this at all?"

Melissa DeRosa (Secretary to the Governor): "There are, I think it was about three dozen people who, and it was human error it wasn't malicious, where two pieces of paper were stuck together and sent, those people have been contacted, the ones who have not yet, will be contacted today.  They're going to receive free credit reporting and surveillance for a year and they're [DOL] making sure to process those claims as a priority but yes, it was human error, it was not malicious and it's being dealt with."

But they may have a bigger problem on their hands than they think.

News10NBC spoke with more than a dozen people on Monday who were impacted by this but couldn’t get through to the Department of Labor to file a complaint and/or get answers because the phone lines have been consistently jammed.  

How do you know if your information might have been exposed? The DOL says a determination letter should be five pages long. If you received one last week, or over the weekend, that was short a page or had someone else’s information, you are impacted.  

You should try to get through to the Department of Labor either by phone, its online messaging system or via social media.

If you’re unable to file your complaint about this exposure of personal information, email your name and address to News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke at jlewke@whec.com.

Stay with News10NBC as this is a developing story. Follow Jennifer Lewke on Facebook and Twitter for updates.


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