One thing I’ve learned in my years in practice is that if people can convince themselves that something isn’t really a big deal, they will gladly do it even if they know it’s wrong. The big stand out in this department as of late is people who are back to work, but still collecting unemployment checks.
The State of Illinois just hired two new attorneys whose job it is to catch people stealing unemployment money and prosecute them for fraud. Unemployment fraud, if you don’t know, is when you claim you’re unemployed even though you have a job. So you get the unemployment checks, plus additional income from somewhere else. A lot of people have jobs where they get paid under the table, so they decide to double dip. Or people end up finding a job but don’t stop their unemployment benefits like they’re supposed to.
Tons of people get away with this fraud because it’s hard to track. Unless someone rats you out, or your employer reports you as a new hire, it’s not easy for the state to figure out what you’re doing. If they do figure it out, the state can do things like garnish your tax refund to get the money back after it’s been stolen, and they do. The article I read said that $74 million was recovered from 2009 through 2011.
Criminal prosecution is another option. It takes more time and effort, but they probably figure it’s a good deterrent. So even though the law hasn’t changed, Illinois is putting more effort into prosecuting people who steal benefits and sending them to jail. Huge fines are possible, too.
I’ve received calls from approximately 10 people in the last six months who were arrested or being investigated in the Chicago area for unemployment fraud. That’s not a huge number, but in the previous ten years I’ll bet I received 10 similar calls total. And every caller has admitted to me that they knew what they were doing was wrong.
Time will tell if anyone actually ends up in jail for this. I’d think that a front page story on someone getting six months or more would be a good deterrent. Until that happens I think we’ll find that this problem will be viewed by many as acceptable to do and most will assume that they’ll never get caught.
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