BALDWIN COUNTY, Alabama (WALA) — Many Baldwin County business owners have had challenges getting people to work. Most blame expanded unemployment benefits. Some of those same business owners are now facing another problem. People they’ve never heard of are filing unemployment claims against them.
Jeremiah Matthews, owner of Southwood Kitchen in Daphne said he’s being inundated with these claims. He said more claims come in daily and he must take the time to dispute each one in writing and respond by fax to the state unemployment office. It not only takes up valuable time but would also hurt the business financially if he didn’t.
“It affects our tax rating at the end of the year so if I don’t respond to these claims and allow them to go through then yeah, we’re on the hook for whatever they get paid,” Matthews explained.
Matthews said the problem has become so bad, almost everyone filing for unemployment under Southwood Kitchen never worked there and, in some cases, don’t even live in Alabama. Matthews said in his communications with the Alabama Department of Labor, he’s learned that the problem is widespread.
“It just sounds like they’re taking someone’s identity and just finding restaurants or businesses because I’m sure it’s not just restaurants and filing claims and seeing which ones that people don’t, you know, contest,” Matthews said.
Industry experts say it’s costing taxpayers billions. Blake Hall is CEA of ID.me, a company specializing in verifying online identities.
“You can literally take any American adult’s identity and turn it into 20-thousand dollars or more,” Hall said. “There has never been a prize like that for the bad guys.”
So far, taxpayers have dished out nearly $500-billion dollars in enhanced unemployment benefits. Hall estimates about half of that is going to pay fraudulent claims.
Matthews said in his case, it’s costing more time than money, but he warns others to be sure and stay on top of any claims sent to them by the Alabama Department of Labor.
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