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Law enforcement frustrated by 'overwhelming' unemployment fraud

"You just kind of feel violated," Emily Jessie said after her identity was used by criminals to file fraudulent unemployment claims.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky just announced Thursday that it's shutting down the unemployment system for four days, and is resetting pin numbers for accounts.This all due to unemployment fraud which is already monopolizing much of law enforcement's time and resources.

The pandemic forced thousands to claim unemployment but even those who been able to work have fallen victim to criminals.

Emily Jessie of Louisville has been working from home during the pandemic.

"This is what I do...make things," Jessie said.

She was surprised when she opened a letter from Kentucky unemployment.

"They claim that I'm eligible for $569 a week," she told FOCUS investigator John Charlton.

But she never filed a claim. 

"I've been blessed to work during this whole pandemic," she said. 

It wasn't hard to figure out her identification had been stolen and used to steal the money meant for those who lost their income. 

"You just kind of feel violated," Jessie explained. "On March 3, they logged in from this IP address, and then they also logged in on March 16, from this IP address."

About two weeks apart, the amount of time to claim payments, the bank account information was changed. Through an open records request, Jessie learned the check was deposited into an account in Utah. 

 "About eight other coworkers said that this has also happened to them," she said.

LMPD Detective Justin Aubrey has a very heavy caseload.

"Overwhelming is a good word," Detective Aubrey explained.

He and the four others in the Financial Crimes Unit usually see around 800 reports on Identity Theft per year.

Just in the first quarter of 2021, they saw a huge difference. 

"In 12 weeks there's been almost 1100 reports," Aubrey told our FOCUS team. 

Det. Aubrey estimates 90% or more of them are stolen identities for unemployment fraud.

"We're unable to provide closure to people that are victims," he said.

It is frustrating and that's because, most of the time, these cases are out of LMPD's jurisdiction.

"The IP addresses are not usually local IP addresses," Aubrey explained. "There's no local connection other than the victim being local."

 The crime crosses state lines and into FBI territory.

"Every state system is being attacked aggressively," FBI Asst. Special Agent In Charge, Quincy Barnett said. 

This cyber heist even goes beyond just U.S. territory.

"We've noticed that there are actors OCONUS, which is outside the United States, who are targeting those systems," Barnett told us. 

Emily Jessie's is now forced to be more focused on financial security.

"Now my credit is frozen and it will stay frozen forever unless I have a need to unfreeze it," Jessie said. 

That's the cold reality of widespread identity theft in unemployment fraud, opened claims with few cases closed.

►Contact reporter John Charlton at jcharlton@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@JCharltonNews) and Facebook.

►Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at FOCUS@whas11.com

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