GILBERT, Ariz. — During this pandemic, people with bad intentions are trying to defraud the state of unemployment benefits. The problem is so severe that earlier this year, the state reported it was receiving more than 10 times the amount of monthly fraud claims than before the pandemic.
Left in the wake of those claims are people like Scott Daniels, a Gilbert military veteran who has spent 10 months trying to prove to the Arizona Department of Economic Security his real identity.
A year full of trials
“This year’s been really tough,” Daniels told 12 News.
He’s not exaggerating.
This year alone, Daniels had his identity stolen, lost his job, and was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer.
“You can only keep your chin up and just keep on moving along. Anyone that has kids knows they come first and you’re going to do everything you can for them,” Daniels said.
Clearing his name
The father of two teens learned in January someone defrauded the state by stealing his identity and claiming jobless benefits. Then in April, Daniels lost his job as an IT salesman.
He applied for unemployment but has been unable to prove to the state his actual identity.
DES, the agency that should be on his side, appears dysfunctional, according to Daniels.
“There is no upper management contact. There is no person you can contact that will have the answers,” he said. “When you call into a call center, the story changes every time.”
He has made dozens of phone calls, sent emails, and done everything asked of him. But DES appears no closer to establishing his identity.
“I was patient, now I’m just upset,” Daniels said.
Unemployment fraud rampant during pandemic
Arizona DES revealed in September that scammers nabbed nearly 30% of the $16 billion released in unemployment insurance since the pandemic began. Most of the money is unrecoverable because it was obtained by out-of-state or overseas scammers.
It’s unclear where the suspect lives in Daniels’ identity theft case. Daniels already had a profile set up with DES and the scammer hijacked it by changing the profile’s address, email address, phone number, and employer information.
Response from DES
DES tells 12 News they’ve elevated Daneils’ case for review and action. After 12 News contacted the agency, Daniels received a call from DES on Wednesday notifying him a new manager was assigned his case.
Tasya Peterson, press secretary for Arizona DES, released the following statement to 12 News:
“The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) continues to prioritize unique and complex cases such as this, as they require additional time for investigation. We know that behind every one of these cases is an individual or family in critical need of support, and we work actively and diligently with our clients to ensure they receive the benefits for which they are eligible. Again, we appreciate your partnership in highlighting these unique cases so our team can better serve individuals in need.”
Learn more about other 12 News investigations by subscribing to the 12 News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist.