HAMILTON, OHIO: The state has added investigators and increased efforts to identify unemployment fraud amid a decrease in the amount of available jobless benefits and the number of Ohioans receiving such help.
A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services told the JournalNews in Hamilton that the state has started using databases and data mining to check for fraud. It also has added about 13 federally funded fraud investigators in recent years for a current total of 67.
Such employees handle not only investigation but also fraud prevention and collection duties. In the past year, the department referred nearly 200 cases to prosecutors.
“It’s probably more prevalent than what ultimately results in a referral for prosecution,” said David Fornshell, Warren County prosecutor. His office recently gained a grand jury indictment of a man he said was receiving benefits for eight months last year while still working.
Fornshell thinks there are people who work under the table while receiving unemployment benefits, and employers who don’t properly report information about workers.
Department spokesman Benjamin Johnson said Ohio also has joined a consortium of states and agencies aimed at identifying and reducing fraud and making payments more accurate.
The state also has established a website and a toll-free line for anonymous tips about unemployment benefit fraud.
A federal report released this year estimated there were some $3.3 billion in fraudulent payments nationally in 2011, with about two-thirds going to people who were employed. That same year, the federal government spent $108 billion on unemployment payments.
In Ohio, Job and Family Services disbursed nearly $2.3 billion in state and federal unemployment compensation to some 435,000 Ohioans in 2012, Johnson said. Through Aug. 17 of this year, some 116,400 Ohioans received benefits.
He said the average unemployment check is $313 a week.