State and federal authorities are cracking down on COVID-19 fraud. Five people are charged with stealing from the state’s unemployment trust fund, by filing false claims during the pandemic.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry says they’ve discovered more than $300,000 paid out in fake pandemic unemployment claims.
“We are here. We will find you,” said Landry. “We will prosecute you to fullest extent to the law.”
Authorities started seeing an increase in unemployment insurance fraud complaints when the pandemic began.
Four suspects have been caught. One is still on the run. Landry says these 5 suspects account for about half of the $300,000 in unemployment benefits scammed from the state discovered so far.
“Every dollar stolen from that account deprives someone who needs that money in order to make ends meet,” said Landry.
Landry says the scammers either filed false claims based on stolen identities, filed false claims while still working, or hacked into legitimate unemployment accounts to redirect funds. He says they even used multiple bank accounts and pre-paid debit cards to retrieve and conceal the money trail.
“Beginning in March of this year, shortly after the shutdown was implemented, we began to see an uptick in unemployment insurance complaints,” said Ernest Green, of the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation.
Landry accused Governor Edwards’ administration of being asleep at the wheel, by not implementing checks and balances, because of the rush to get unemployment payments to the people. The pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the state’s unemployment system. The state’s unemployment fund was once healthy at $1 billion, now only has $50 million.
More arrests are expected as authorities continue to find people filing false claims. If you know anyone who is scamming the state’s unemployment trust fund, you are urged to call 1-866-720-5721.