Local woman learns her identity was stolen after receiving unusual VEC bank statements

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia – News Three problem solvers work hard to get to the bottom of the issues that affect you.

Our team examines complaints about the Virginia Employment Commission in more detail.

Gov. Ralph Northam said that since the start of the pandemic, nearly 1.7 million people in Virginia have filed for unemployment.

Although even people who worked during the pandemic have faced unemployment issues, including Sheryl Little. While Little worked during the pandemic, she was unaware that her identity had been stolen until unusual Wells Fargo bank statements began to appear in her mailbox.

“I considered this to be junk mail because I don’t bank with Wells Fargo,” she said. “At the beginning of November, I got my third coin and I’m like ‘uhhh let me open this.'”

The statement inside showed an account opened in Little’s name.

“There were payments from the Virginia Employment Commission with four different names of people on it going into that account. I mean we’re looking at a total of $ 13,000,” Little said.

Little was shocked. She said she filed for unemployment at the start of the pandemic, but pulled out when her employer received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, an SBA-backed loan that helps businesses keep their jobs. workers.

“So my mind starts to calculate now that the only person who would have my information at VEC: my name, my address, my social security number .. and the fact that I took out my unemployment this information is still in VEC”, Little said. .

Wells Fargo froze the account and confirmed it to be fraudulent. Yet Little was not satisfied. She completed the Fraud / Theft / Overpayment online form on the Virginia Employment Commission website.

When she went unanswered, she faxed a typed letter, but said her contacts went unacknowledged.

“I am trying to justify a wrong done on behalf of citizens who applied for jobs in Virginia and did not receive their money due to fraudulent activity,” Little said.

The VEC website said that after filing a complaint “multiple times you will not receive any further contact or information.” News 3 Problem Solvers forwarded these concerns to the Governor himself for answers.

“The vast majority of [the claims] are well intentioned, but with any system comes the potential for fraud, so we have invested a significant amount of resources and money in our unemployment system, we have also hired a lot of new people, ”Northam said.

A spokesperson for the VEC said a new online system was in place, in part to reduce fraud. Leslie Blackwell of the Better Business Bureau said stories like Little’s are far too common.

“Identity theft is now on a massive scale, with more and more people online due to COVID,” said Leslie Blackwell, director of public affairs for the Better Business Bureau.

The state of Virginia watchdog, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, reported in November that the VEC had paid out about $ 70 million in fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits in 2020 and an additional $ 29 million. in the first quarter of 2021.

“Once these crooks get your identity, they can go to town, they can open loan applications. They can open credit cards,” Blackwell said.

To protect yourself, the BBB said to always set up alerts on your accounts and freeze them, if necessary. The VEC said to call its customer contact center at 1-866-832-2363 to report fraud or overpayment.

“We’re in a much better position than 22 months ago, but it’s been quite a challenge,” said Northam.

Little said she reached out to News 3 because there is still a long way to go, even when it comes to communication and awareness.

“We need to investigate how something like this could happen,” she said.

If you have a consumer tip or story that you would like News 3 Problem Solvers to review, email us at [email protected]