Arizona closes unemployment accounts in anti-fraud effort, but some say legitimate funds were wiped out

Some people with legitimate claims to unemployment benefits might have seen their bank accounts where the money is deposited wiped out over the weekend as the Arizona Department of Economic Security continued to crack down on fraud.
Starting Saturday, people receiving unemployment insurance from Arizona began reporting their Bank of America accounts were closed, taking thousands of dollars out of their hands.
People who receive unemployment in Arizona are provided a debit card with Bank of America, and each week they qualify for benefits the money is credited towards the account. They also can set up direct deposit into their existing accounts.
DES officials initially said on Sunday they were "investigating" the reports of bank accounts getting canceled but on Monday said the accounts were closed on purpose.
"As part of its increased fraud detection efforts, DES closed accounts with suspicious account information and activity located out of state," DES said Monday on Twitter. "The majority of claims identified are believed to be fraudulent."
Bank of America deferred questions about the issue to DES.
DES officials did not respond to questions regarding how many accounts were affected.
"Whenever additional fraud detection and prevention measures are put into place, there will be a small portion of individuals eligible for benefits who may be impacted by these measures," DES said. "These individuals will still be able to access benefits."
DES said people who have been affected who believe their claims are legitimate can email to sort the issue out.
"If a claimant is disqualified/denied benefits, they have the right to file an appeal," DES spokesperson Brett Bezio said on Monday. "They must file their appeal within an established time frame. Instructions can be found within the determination notice, once issued by the department."
People who are determined not to be fraudulent accounts will get new cards issued, DES said.

'I'm not sure where that money went'

One man whose account was closed said a DES representative told him on the phone on Monday it could be 21 business days before they can straighten out his claim.
Paul Rodriguez-Bigby has used up his 26 weeks of eligibility for unemployment, having been out of work long before the coronavirus pandemic. He previously worked in Arizona but now lives in California, where he said he moved to care for his parents.
He was receiving benefits through a 13-week extension Congress approved to address job losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
Unemployment insurance is paid by employers, so it is not uncommon for people to apply for and receive benefits in a state where they no longer live because their work history was in another state, and that's where an employer paid for their benefits.
Rodriguez-Bigby had worked at a school in Arizona, which is where his unemployment benefits came from.
He was surprised when he tried to use his Arizona card to buy fast food over the weekend and the card was declined. He learned Monday that at least $2,100 in his account was gone.
"I don't know how I'll be surviving the pandemic now," he said. "I'm not sure where that money went. Here's the kicker, I was trying my hardest not to spend that money because I knew I wasn’t going to get it forever."
Andrew Williamson, who now lives in Kansas City, also lost about $2,600 out of his account he learned Monday. He previously worked in sales in Arizona.
"I went to check the other day and it was zeroed out," he said.
Williamson also was receiving benefits through the 13-week extension.
"Now everything is stagnant because of coronavirus," he said regarding his inability to find another job.
Williamson and Rodriguez-Bigby said their claims were legitimate and should not have been canceled.
The Republic shared their names with DES, but the agency did not address whether their accounts were canceled because of fraud or whether they were legitimate claims caught up in the anti-fraud efforts. DES generally declines to answer questions about specific applicants.
DES continues to face other challenges besides the canceled accounts.
Many people reported Monday that their payments were delayed, including those receiving regular unemployment and another form of benefits for contractors, the self-employed and others who don't qualify for traditional benefits called "pandemic unemployment assistance."
Many people file a benefits claim on Sunday indicating they were out of work the prior week, and those people generally look for their money in the bank on Monday or Tuesday.
DES said last week that its ramped-up efforts to combat fraud have slowed down payments.
Previous Post Next Post