Unemployment Fraud in Oklahoma
By Jennifer Loren, The Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- To collect unemployment benefits, jobless Oklahomans have to be actively searching for jobs. But some of those people aren't looking for jobs at all. Instead, they easily defraud the system and collect their weekly check, some paid for by taxpayers.
In order to receive unemployment benefits, out of work Oklahomans are required to log at least two job search contacts each week. At the unemployment office, advisors tell clients how important it is to keep their job search logs current, even though they'll likely never have to show them to anyone.
"It's kind of the honor system, right?" asked Jennifer Loren of The Oklahoma Impact Team.
"Sort of," replied Stacy Dunagan, an advisor with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
To receive their checks, people on unemployment have to answer a series of questions online or over the phone. To prove they're actually looking for a job, all they have to do is answer yes to one of those questions.
"One of the questions is did you make your two work search requirements. And they need to answer yes and they need to make sure that's an honest yes," said Dunagan.
But according to a man named John who e-mailed the Oklahoma Impact Team, his roommate is not being honest and is milking the system. He says he thinks it's wrong that his roommate is allowed to collect a weekly unemployment check and has never looked for a job. He asks if there's something that can be done about unemployment fraud.
"We understand that there probably are some, you know, that don't tell us the truth that may never get caught," said the Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Jerry Pectol.
Pectol says they try to cut down on fraud by conducting random audits. Of the 75,000 Oklahomans collecting benefits, 480 of them will be audited this year. They are the only ones who have to prove they're looking for a job.
"We want everybody who deserves benefits to get benefits, especially right now. But we don't want people who don't deserve them to get them," said Pectol.
On top of the audits, Pectol says the OESC will investigate people turned in for fraud. He says last year the state put $6 million back into the system based on investigations. If the OESC had more funding for investigations, he says they'd find even more fraud. Pectol says the funding for audits and investigations comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.
"We know that there are a lot of people drawing benefits that are not entitled to those. So I do look for the Department of Labor to push more initiatives in the future," said Pectol.
But right now some of the federal unemployment extensions are being paid out of a general fund. According to the U.S. Department of Labor that means taxpayers are essentially paying those unemployment checks, unlike state unemployment benefits which are paid by taxes collected from businesses.
So the question is... are the current measures doing enough to protect your money?
"I don't know that I would say personally that I think they're good enough... I think we're doing the best we can with what we have to use," said Pectol.
If a person is found guilty of fraud they have to pay back the money they collected and will be denied unemployment benefits for 52 weeks. To report unemployment fraud in Oklahoma call 405-557-5400.