VEC investigating fraud claims

Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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By Crystal Vandegrift

Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many individuals and their ability to provide for their families since striking in March 2020. For some, unemployment benefits helped many survive when so many operations had to close, while for others it was a way to cash in by filing claims under false pretenses.

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The Virginia Employment Commission has started investigating those claims, a news release said, in hopes of recovering this money paid on thousands of confirmed fraudulent claims of employment benefits.

VEC officials said that since March 2020, the state had distributed $1.6 billion in known and potentially fraudulent claims.

Since January, VEC officials said they have successfully recovered roughly $40 million in wrongful payments with more than $60 million remaining to be addressed.

VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth said this is in connection to 17,401 cases of confirmed fraud.

Roth said the VEC is in the process of reviewing 99,376 unpaid and 180,261 paid potentially fraudulent claims.

According to a VEC report, from March 21, 2020, to March 2021, more than 1.5 million claims were filed, compared to the 477,600 averages filed during the previous three economic recessions since 1990.

For eligible individuals who did not commit fraud but were overpaid through no fault of their own, the VEC has approved 23,310 overpayment waivers and waived more than $80 million in payments.

The employment commission said fraudulent claims have not only come from individuals who were working at the time of filing but also from those affected by identity theft. Under Virginia law, the VEC can request and authorize state’s Attorney General to represent the VEC in the prosecution of criminal unemployment compensation fraud cases.

“When someone commits fraud against the state, they are stealing from all Virginians. When that fraud impacts our unemployment insurance program, it is especially hurting people in need. I am proud of Attorney General Miyares, who will take on this important role of fighting fraud and abuse on behalf of all Virginians,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin in a news release.

Unemployment claims have reduced since the onset of the pandemic, with the latest VEC data showing 2,363 initial claims were filed in Virginia for the week ending July 30.

For the most recent filing week, VEC said continued weeks claimed totaled 11,842, which is an increase of 928 claims from the previous week, but was 63% lower than the 31,960 continued claims from the comparable week last year.

Anyone who has received a billing statement from the VEC concerning an overpayment or if an individual suspects fraud, they should contact VEC’s Benefit Payment Unit at 804-786-8593.