CHESAPEAKE, Va. - News Three's Problem Solvers are working to get to the bottom of issues affecting you.
Our team is looking deeper into complaints about the Virginia Employment Commission.
Governor Ralph Northam said since the beginning of the pandemic, close to 1.7 million people in Virginia filed for unemployment.
Though even people who worked through the pandemic found themselves encountering unemployment issues, including Sheryl Little. While Little worked through the pandemic, she had no idea her identity had been stolen until unusual bank statements from Wells Fargo started showing up in her mailbox.
"I considered it junk mail because I don't bank with Wells Fargo," she said. "By the beginning of November I received my third piece and I'm like 'uhhh let me open this.'"
The statement inside showed an open account in Little's name.
"There were payments coming from the Virginia Employment Commission with four different individuals names on it, going into this account. I mean we're looking at a total of $13,000," Little said.
Little was shocked. She said she had applied for unemployment at the beginning of the pandemic, but withdrew when her employer received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, an SBA-backed loan that helps businesses keep their workers.
"So my mind starts to now calculate that the only individual that would have my information at VEC: my name, my address, my social security number.. and the fact that I withdrew my unemployment that information is still in VEC," Little said.
Wells Fargo froze the account and confirmed it was fraudulent. Still, Little wasn't satisfied. She completed the online Fraud/Theft/Overpayment form on the Virginia Employment Commission's website.
When it went unanswered she faxed a typed letter, but she said her contacts went without acknowledgment.
"I'm trying to justify a wrong that was done on behalf of citizens who have filed Virginia employment claims and have not received their money due to fraudulent activity," Little said.
The VEC's website said after filing a claim "many times, you will not receive any other contact or information." News 3 Problem Solvers took these concerns to the governor himself for answers.
"The great majority of [the claims] are well intended but with any system comes the potential for fraud so we've invested a significant amount of resources and money into our unemployment system we've also hired a lot of new people," said Northam.
A spokesperson for the VEC said there's a new online system in place, in part to reduce fraud. Leslie Blackwell with the Better Business Bureau said stories like Little's are far too common.
"Identity theft is at a massive scale now, with more and more people online because of COVID," said Leslie Blackwell, Director of Public Affairs with Better Business Bureau.
Virginia's state watchdog agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, reported in November that the VEC had paid out about $70 million in fraudulent UI benefits in 2020 and an additional $29 million in the first quarter of 2021.
"Once these scammers get your identity, they can go to town, they go and they can open up applications taking out loans. They can open up credit cards," said Blackwell.
To protect yourself, the BBB said always set up alerts on your accounts and freeze them, if necessary. The VEC said to call their Customer Contact Center at 1-866-832-2363 to report fraud or overpayment.
"We're in a much better place than we were 22 months ago but it's been quite a challenge," said Northam.
Little said she reached out to News 3 because more needs to be done even when it comes to communication and outreach.
"It needs to be investigated as to how something like this could happen," she said.
If you have a consumer tip or a story that you want the News 3 Problem Solvers to look into email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.