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Unemployed New Yorkers stuck after using VPNs to file for benefits

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: July 20, 2020 06:08 PM
Created: July 20, 2020 05:02 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) — New York State is trying to crack down on scammers who are attempting to collect unemployment benefits they are not entitled to during this pandemic. But some struggling out-of-work New Yorkers are getting caught in the safety net the Department of Labor has cast.

Elena Rodriguez found out just before the pandemic hit that she’s pregnant with her first child.

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“I have something amazing to look forward to and it's really given me hope,” she told News10NBC.  

But, a few weeks later, she lost her job and now she’s running into problems accessing the unemployment benefits she’s entitled to.

Rodriguez had been receiving benefits weekly until the end of June. Then, she re-certified her benefits online.

“That evening I got something that said 'we see that you are in Romania,' I was like wait what are you talking about… and then I realized my VPN was on,” she said.

A VPN is a virtual private network, basically, a more secure internet connection that masks your true IP address.

“I just had the VPN for extra security because I heard cyber threats are more increased during this time,  so I thought I was being proactive and smart and doing all this. Not for one second did I think it might show that I am not in the country,” Rodriguez said.  

Rodriguez’s payments were halted immediately and although she’s provided copies of every page of her passport and a copy of her driver’s license to prove she hasn’t traveled, she has yet to hear back from the Department of Labor.

Colin Wadsworth also claimed benefits while using a VPN.

“In the morning I got an email saying 'Oh we noticed that you had an international IP address you were outside of the country please fill out this little questionnaire so we can get your benefits resuming again' and it seemed like they were in it to help me out,” he told News10NBC.  

Wadsworth filled out the questionnaire, but he still hasn’t heard back from DOL and now he’s going on nearly 8 weeks without benefits.

“If they would just let me know if there is there any other information I can provide,  passwords, documentation anything.. they still never respond,” he said.  

In a statement, a spokeswoman for NYSDOL said, “Unemployment insurance fraud, unfortunately, is a scourge that the DOL fights every day, and criminal networks are actively seeking to exploit this global public health emergency to defraud state systems. During this crisis, we have disrupted thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims -- and one of our best tools is flagging claims that appear to originate out of the United States for further review. We continue to remind New Yorkers using VPNs or other 'internet anonymizer' systems to disable those services before applying for benefits or submitting weekly certifications."

The length of each investigation is different according to NYSDOL, and depends on the claimant's participation, the answers they provide to the questions, and what evidence they provide.

DOL will look into Wadsworth and Rodriguez’s cases immediately.  


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