COLORADO SPRINGS — News5 continues to track unemployment fraud seen by our neighbors here in southern Colorado and the strain it's put on the entire system impacting the ability of people who need the benefits to access them. Now top state and federal legal and law enforcement minds are teaming-up to fight the fraud.
Recently the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment told News5 it was tripling its number of fraud investigators, but this is such a massive problem Colorado's attorney general is calling on top state and federal investigators to team with local district attorneys to track down the fraudsters as well.
Back at the start of the year News5 began tracking the widespread unemployment fraud in Colorado after viewers contacted the newsroom claiming they got mail with unemployment benefit debit cards and pin numbers they never applied for. Investigators reported these pieces of mail were being sent to areas where it could be easily stolen and drained.
These bank cards loaded with state dollars were even stacking up at businesses with names employers had never heard of.
This left many people scrambling to report this fraud having never been the target of identity theft before.
"Identity theft means you could lose your credit score you've been working hard to raise. Identity theft means you could have regular social security money that all of a sudden stops. It also means that years later when your kids apply for student loans there's extra paperwork involved. Forms get complicated, customer service takes longer, everything gets harder," said 1st Judicial District DA Alexis King, who is a member of the Unemployment Fraud Task Force.
Targets of the unemployment fraud then started getting tax forms asking them to pay taxes on the unemployment money collected in their names.
All of this confusion caused Colorado's unemployment system to be so overwhelmed people who needed benefits couldn't get through to get the help they needed.
After all this, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is putting forward a task force of top legal and law enforcement minds to aggressively go after fraudsters domestically and abroad.
"And if we can find people, say someone picking up unemployment insurance benefits that don't belong to them as part of whether it's an organized criminal activity, whether it's a one-off activity, we will get to the bottom of it," said Weiser. "We will work to bring people to justice. Preying on people during a pandemic it's atrocious."
3rd Judicial District DA Henry Solano lives and works in southern Colorado. He's a part of the attorney general's task force and says collectively they hope to uncover some answers.
"If they try to do it all by themselves we're going to make a dent in something locally, but not in the bigger picture given what is going on. It's not that often that task forces have been started, but the ones that are starting now are built on the success of examples in the past. It is really showing how people can work together. So, please take heart that we are here. We're working hard. We're trying to work on the problem," said Solano.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has important forms to report fraud and to report tax forms that are tied to this unemployment fraud.
Here is a link provided by the State of Colorado to help anyone who has received this unexpected piece of mail: https://cdle.colorado.gov/fraud-prevention
Some people may also be getting unexpected tax forms tied to the unemployment fraud. Here's where you can report that: https://co.tfaforms.net/f/Report_Invalid_1099