'I'd be the first to know if I was fired': Stow woman opens own unemployment claim at work

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal
Jill Janson with paperwork documenting debit card accounts that have been set up using her information from fraudulent unemployment claims.
Jill Janson with paperwork documenting debit card accounts that have been set up using her information from fraudulent unemployment claims.

Earlier this year, Jill Janson was working at Stow City Hall in the human resources department when she opened an unemployment claim for separation of services.

She had seen these claims before, but this one caught her eye because it was filed in her name. 

"I laughed because I said, 'Well, I'm here in my office. I'm working, and I don't think anyone fired me without me knowing.' I'm in human resources, so I think I'd be the first to know if I was fired," said Janson, who has worked for Stow full time for 13 years. 

Janson is now one of the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans whose identities have been  used by scammers to fraudulently claim unemployment benefits. 

The issue has seemingly hit all industries and communities across the state, including Stow. 

More:City of Stow employees, retirees fall victim to unemployment fraud

"We've seen a marked increase in fraud, especially with unemployment specifically," Stow Police Captain Bryan Snavely said. "We cannot specifically differentiate unemployment fraud from other versions of fraud in our system, but the significant increase is due to the unemployment aspect."

Between January and October 2020, Stow police received less than 10 identify theft reports per month. The number of cases increased slightly between November 2020 to January 2021 to between 10 and 17 cases per month. 

Then there was a sudden and sharp increase to 86 cases in February and 82 cases in March. There were only four cases in each month in 2020. 

"This is such a broad problem," Snavely said. 

Many people likely called the police during those months because that was when the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services began mailing out the 1099 tax forms. 

As Beacon Journal columnist Betty Lin-Fisher explained earlier this year, when a person files for unemployment, the state does not typically send any confirmation. Instead, the payment is sent by direct deposit, or the scammer redirects the payment to a debit card. The 1099 form therefore may be the first indication that fraud is occurring. 

More:Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are victims of unemployment fraud. Here's what to do

ODJFS spokesman Tom Betti explained that the fraud was not a result of a data breach at the ODJFS but "you can probably surmise all of the major national data leaks that have happened in the past few years. It’s highly likely that’s all connected somehow. These criminal rings are using people’s identities in mass to defraud federal and state and local governments in this time of crisis.” 

When Janson discovered the fraud in her name, she immediately reached out to Stow's finance department and reported the incident to ODJFS. About eight years ago, she was also a victim of identity theft, but was not anticipating that she would have to do anything else in this instance. 

About three weeks later, however, she received two Visa cards, both in her name but with two different account numbers from GoBank. Janson called GoBank, and was able to shut down both accounts because they were in her name. GoBank indicated that both accounts used her correct address, but different phone numbers. 

Then in March, Janson received another two Visa cards from Cash App, despite the fact that she does not have a Cash App account. This time, the cards were not in her name but used her address. Because she was not the account holder, she was unable to close either card. Janson said in March that she was planning to submit a consumer complaint form to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost's office about the accounts. 

More:State opens new ID theft hotline for unemployment fraud claims

As of April 16, Janson said that there has been no further activity other than confirmation from the attorney general's office, which took about three weeks from the time she submitted her complaints. 

"I want people to know what's going on. Education is an important aspect, especially for folks dealing with fraud," she said. "I hope people realize they have to keep actively engaged in what's going on with their accounts and finances." 

To report unemployment fraud, visit https://unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.