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News10NBC Investigates: Teachers, school staff hit by unemployment scam

Berkeley Brean
Created: June 17, 2020 06:35 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) — News10NBC is investigating more problems with New York State's unemployment insurance. 

This time it's not a delay in payments. 

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It's a scam. 

And it's a fraud that appears to be targeting teachers and staff in local school districts. 

"My mother got this letter," Ken Hugh said as he held up the documents from the New York State Department of Labor.

The letters had strange news. 

"I'm approved for full (unemployment insurance) benefits starting June 1," Hugh said. 

The letters had State Labor letterhead and said a claim was approved with an activation date and Hugh's monthly allowance in the hundreds. 

The letters had Hugh's salary history, name, address and social security number. 

Hugh's mother had questions. 

"Have you filed unemployment? Are you out of work? I said no," he said. 

Hugh is a manager in a tech company. Monday, an official state unemployment KeyBank debit card arrived in the mail. Hugh was hit by a nation-wide unemployment insurance fraud. 

"If this goes to some account, it could go out of the country and I'm out," he said. "The State of New York is out."

In May, The New York Times reported the feds were investigating attacks on unemployment insurance systems across the country. The story said the fraud could be based in Nigeria.

The state Department of Labor says "Unemployment insurance fraud, unfortunately, is a scourge that the DOL fights every day, but those who seek to exploit a global pandemic for these criminal purposes are especially despicable. ‎This is exactly why there is an exhaustive application process — to stop this type of fraud and deliver benefits to unemployed New Yorkers who actually need our support. We investigate all reports of fraud, and cannot comment on specific cases."

State Labor says the fraud is not due to a breach of the department's systems but may be due to previous hacks of other institutions like banks, insurance companies or the victim's employer.

State Labor won't detail how the scam works, but the money is funneled either from the state or the victims into the accounts of the bad guys. 

For some reason, school employees are getting targeted. 

Greece Central Schools says about 50 school employees are victims. Close to 40 of them filed reports with Greece Police which says it is forwarding the reports to the FBI. 

East Irondequoit says it happened to 10 staffers. 

Batavia schools report at least 2. 

Rush-Henrietta schools has one. 

I contacted 25 school districts in our region and their numbers are still coming in. Seven, including HF-L, East Rochester, Pittsford, Gates-Chili, RCSD, Pal-Mac and Cal-Mum said they are aware of the fraud but no employees reported getting the letters. 

It happened to Ellen Aceto, an employee in the Brockport Central School District. Aceto, who was never laid off in the crisis, got the same letters as Ken Hugh, with her name, address, salary and social security number and the date her benefits started. 

Brean: "When you got this document with all your information on it, what did you think? How did you feel?"

Ellen Aceto, lives in Brockport: "It totally freaked me out. Extremely violating. Violated."

Here is information if you or someone you know received approval of an unemployment insurance claim they never applied for:

Report it to the DOL online.

Take steps to protect themselves, including those listed at IdentityTheft.gov like: 

  1. Changing passwords, logins, and pins for online accounts, especially banks.
  2. Place a free fraud alert on your accounts with the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).
  3. Get a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
  4. Report the identity theft to the FTC.
  5. File a report with their local police department, if they wish.
  6. Report a misused Social Security number, among others.


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