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The Investigators: Unemployed Mid-Southerners report their benefits are going elsewhere after accounts hacked

Updated: Jan. 14, 2021 at 9:20 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More than one million new unemployment claims have been filed in Tennessee since the start of the pandemic last March, according to new data released by the Department of Labor.

Some unemployed Tennesseans are contacting the WMC Action News 5 Investigators saying other people are getting their unemployment money because their account information was changed without their knowledge.

“You don’t know what to do. You feel helpless,” said Lisa Crowley.

Crowley worked as a makeup artist for 17 years at a local department store. She was furloughed last March, then laid off in September.

“This pandemic struck from nowhere so it was one of those situations where makeup is kind of not a thing anymore,” she said.

Crowley filed for unemployment and had been receiving benefits until last month when the checks suddenly stopped.

Crowley went online to look at her Jobs4TN account and was shocked by what she found.

“The money was being paid out so I wasn’t quite sure where it was going, and then noticed that my debit had been changed to a direct deposit on my claim,” said Crowley.

Crowley didn’t recognize the direct deposit number so she called the Tennessee Department of Labor.

“They were kind of lost themselves,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to do. I was screaming out but no one was listening. I was reaching out for help but I had nobody to actually contact.”

When she finally got through to someone, Crowley was asked to upload documents to prove her identity.

She isn’t alone.

Others are complaining that their account information suddenly changed.

“How is the Department of Labor combating fraud within the unemployment system?” asked The Investigators.

“Fraud and unemployment have always gone together,” said Chris Cannon, Tennessee Department of Labor spokesperson. “We’ve done a very good job at keeping widespread fraud and keeping someone from hacking our system.”

Cannon said the state has a modern computer system with fraud protection. However, the protection isn’t foolproof.

The state has been receiving complaints from unemployed Tennesseans saying other people are getting their benefits.

We wanted to know how widespread the issue was, but in an email, Cannon wrote, “the Department cannot discuss details involving on-going fraud prevention tactics, investigations, or the scope of potentially fraudulent activity.”

Cannon said on camera that with the influx of unemployment claims over the last 10 months, more criminals have keyed in on the increase.

“We’re making it as difficult as possible for the criminals to get someone’s identify and try to open a claim in their name and take money that’s not rightfully theirs,” said Cannon.

If you notice your account info was changed, the Tennessee Department of Labor asks you email them at bpc.investigations@tn.gov.

The state reminds folks to be careful when logging into their Jobs4TN accounts on public computers and internet systems.

Also, do not open emails and texts from people you do not know that include links or attachments.

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