S.C. authorities audit more than 2,800 jobless claims for fraud

Financial relief is now available to thousands of South Carolinians who have gone months...
Financial relief is now available to thousands of South Carolinians who have gone months without work.(Source: WIS)
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 1:31 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - South Carolina officials say more than 2,800 unemployment insurance claims are being investigated for fraud.

As of February, officials have referred 2,855 claims to law enforcement for possible prosecution of fraud for financial gain during the pandemic.

“The federal programs created to help people through the pandemic have, unfortunately, also been very susceptible to criminals eager to take advantage of these funds and circumvent the law for their own financial gain,” said Dan Ellzey, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

South Carolina is not alone in the problem, which is nationwide. The fraud has fed on twin vulnerabilities: a flood of jobless benefit applications since the pandemic began that has overwhelmed state unemployment agencies and antiquated benefit systems that are easy prey for crafty and persistent criminals.

In South Carolina, Ellzey’s agency has added security measures to help combat fraudulent claims.

Ellzey said the agency also added staff and software “to deter and detect fraud in the unemployment insurance program.”

“We have worked with the Integrity Data Hub and utilized every service that they offer,” he said. “We implemented ID verification systems and, we cross match claimant data in every manner that is available to us.”

He said the agency has 68 people on the fraud staff who investigate fraud allegations that come to us by tips and leads, cross matching.

Ellzey said anyone who knows of someone who is receiving unemployment insurance fraudulently can report the information to the Department of Employment and Workforce by filling out the fraud form on the UI Fraud page.

“We do anticipate cases will move forward and charges will be filed against some of these bad actors,” Ellzey said. “Investigations take time, so it is hard to say when that will happen. If and when charges are filed, we will work to communicate this information.”

If someone is found guilty of unemployment insurance fraud, they will have to repay the benefits and may face possible prison time.

A look at latest unemployment stats

The state’s Department of Employment and Workforce says just more than 4,000 filed their first claim for unemployment in the past week.

SCDEW said for the week ending Saturday, it received a total of 4,089 initial claims, up from 3,705 in the week ending Feb. 20, the lowest total reported in 2021.

That brings the total since March 15 of last year who have filed that first claim to 854,215.

For last week, Greenville County had the highest number of claims at 346 and Richland County had the second-highest at 320. Greenwood, Spartanburg and Horry Counties rounded out the top five counties.

Charleston County had the sixth-highest total at 186, with Berkeley County trailing in eighth place with 153.

Dorchester County had 104 claims, putting it in a tie for the 10th highest number of claims with Aiken County.

In the week ending Saturday, SCDEW paid out $72.9 million in state and federal benefits.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.