For weeks, the Let Joe Know team has been piecing together just what is happening behind the scenes at the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
The team has been trying to find out why people who never filed unemployment claims are getting debit cards with thousands of dollars on them, and why, when contacting DES, they are not getting a response.
DES has said in the past that they are overwhelmed by the number of calls they receive every day. They are now also finding ways to address the number of fraudulent claims that continues to grow.
But are there things the department could have done to prevent these delays and fraud from happening in the first place?
“The websites themselves can be vulnerable to attacks if they’ve not been properly vetted, or they were developed a long time ago,” said Morey Haber, the Chief Technology Officer with BeyondTrust. “When I say a long time ago, we’re talking five to 10 years ago.”
Haber also explained that unemployment systems, not only here in Arizona but across the country, were vulnerable from the start.
He believes the need for updates, combined with the onslaught of unemployment claims, created the perfect storm for scammers and overall system delays.
He says most unemployment systems check pieces of information with other federal agencies. Each piece takes three to five seconds to process, but when that is multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of applications being submitted, it can equal a long wait time. In some cases, the system is so overwhelmed that the information requested never comes back.
No matter the case, the systems in place were in need of an overhaul years ago. As for the PUA system, set up in response to COVID-19, there may have been gaps allowing for scammers to use personal information.
DES told ABC15 in the past, that when scammers do apply with your information, they try to use their banking information.
That bank information is red flagged, triggering a debit card to be sent to your address. The one scammers used to apply.
Now, DES claims that protocol has been changed, but has not said when that changed occurred.
As of July 7, the Let Joe Know team was still getting calls and emails from people who never applied for unemployment and are still getting debit cards.
So, how are scammers really doing it?
“Any place you may have put those numbers in the last 10, 15, 20 years could be the source. That’s the problem. It’s that longevity,” said Haber.
Since Social Security numbers, and in some cases driver license numbers, never change, Haber explained that it may be impossible to pinpoint exactly where scammers got their hands on them.
He also pointed to our lives posted online.
“People have been basically getting your name, getting your address, which is easy enough. It’s even available in the phone book, and even going to things like social media, like LinkedIn, to find out where you work,” said Morey.
He said there is no true way to monitor if someone has applied for unemployment under your name because it doesn’t show up on credit reports.
However, he believes one small change in the system could have potentially avoided this headache.
“If the employer had to first submit [a report that] this person is now unemployed and then that is followed up by an employee. Then, at least, you should have a checks-and-balances type implementation,” said Morey.
ABC15 reached out to DES about these recent fraud claims and new security measures put into place, such as a two-factor authentication system which people say has locked them out of their accounts. However, DES did not respond by our deadline.
We will continue to push leaders for more transparency and what is being done to address the claims still on hold months after being filed.