Mentor business says people who have never worked for them are trying to illegally get pandemic unemployment

More identity theft fraud in the Pandemic Unemployment Program.
Updated: Mar. 4, 2021 at 10:39 PM EST
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MENTOR, Ohio (WOIO) - Fraud continues to plague the Pandemic Unemployment System.

Some local business owners say they are bombarded with unemployment claim forms with the names and social security numbers of people who have never worked for them.

However, those people are clearly victims of identity theft.

At Revolution Pizza on Mentor Avenue in Mentor, more than 20 envelopes from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services unemployment division cover a table.

All have been received in the past two weeks.

Many of the forms from different processing centers around Ohio, including Franklin County, which includes Columbus, as well as Youngstown and Marietta.

Small business owner Ralph Buongiovanni says when it comes to pizza, he delivers the dough.

But the dough identity thieves are stealing is cold hard cash in the form of our tax dollars from the Pandemic Unemployment Fund, which is money meant for people who were laid-off or lost their jobs when the coronavirus hit Ohio.

“I’m absolutely shocked because I’m thinking about somebody’s identity that’s been stolen. Somebody is trying to reap the benefits from that. That’s not good.”

Identity theft thieves use the names and social security numbers of others without their knowledge and hope to cash in by claiming Revolution Pizza as their employer.

“They reported they’ve worked for us, and I have the responsibility to reply to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and say they have not worked for me, or we parted our separate ways or whatever it is. If I don’t reply, it typically goes to the next level and gets approved.”

That’s why this Mentor business owner says even though some area businesses are refusing the envelopes from the mail carrier, he has spent day after day contacting ODJFS by phone to report the fraud and stop any money that’s been paid out to those who haven’t earned it.

“All I know is the problem is getting worse. I got 12 of the letters yesterday, two today, and all of them are dated the 23rd and the 30th. These are all recent – so the problem is still escalating at a very high level,” Buongiovanni said.

The business owner fears we will all be forced to pay for the fraud in the future because this short-term problem has long-term consequences.

“I just feel this problem needs to be stopped somehow, some way.”

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services tells 19 News each case of fraud will be reported to the federal government’s Department of Labor because they are ultimately federal dollars.

They can’t say for sure, but ODJFS believes major data breaches over the past two years are the cause of all the fraud.

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