PHOENIX – As an influx of reports of fraudulent unemployment claims floods the state agency that handles that work, a Valley teacher is still trying to stop whoever is filing for unemployment benefits under her name eight months later.
Leticia Alonso-Robles of Buckeye is a high school math teacher. In January, the three Arizona school districts where she previously worked contacted her about unemployment claims she supposedly filed.
And that's not all.
"They ended up filing for unemployment benefits with any district that was near my current home address as well, so I got letters from districts I've never even worked for," Alonso-Robles said.
The districts denied the claims when she told them she hadn’t filed them.
The school district where Alonso-Robles works also was notified of an unemployment claim and reported it as fraud on her behalf. She thought that would resolve the issue.
"But then like a month later, I got documents and a card," she said.
It was a debit card in which payments for unemployment benefits are issued.
Alonso-Robles said she filed an identity theft claim with the Arizona Department of Economic Security toward the end of January. She said she was told an investigator would call her "so that they could put a stop to this."
Alonso-Robles said she didn't hear back from an investigator until last week.
"I had everything to help them stop this, but it was like they didn't want to," she said. "Every time I'd call they were like, 'You already submitted a claim of identity theft. You're going to have to wait.'"
In the meantime, unemployment claims kept being filed in her name. She has tried to keep whoever is filing them from actually receiving payment by logging in every week and getting the claims denied.
"They could've collected all this money," she said. "But I went above and beyond to try to make sure they didn't."
KTAR News 92.3 FM reached out to Arizona Department of Economic Security about Alonso-Robles and was told her case would be elevated and that she'd be provided assistance.
The department added its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) "has seen an unprecedented influx of reports of fraud during the pandemic, most of which involve identity theft."
The office hired and reassigned staff to respond to the influx of reports and implemented additional fraud prevention measures.
It also partnered with a private call center vendor to facilitate fraud reports and help victims of unemployment fraud and potential identity theft. DES noted many of these cases are complex and require months of investigation in collaboration with state and federal law enforcement partners.
"OIG continues to work with the unemployment insurance program to investigate all reports of fraud as quickly as possible, while working diligently to safeguard taxpayer funds and preserve the integrity of our programs as eligible claimants continue to receive critical assistance," the department said.
This comes as many states have grappled with unemployment fraud during the coronavirus pandemic.
In Arizona, scammers have pocketed nearly 30% of the $16 billion in unemployment insurance payments sent out since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, DES estimates it prevented more than $75 billion in unemployment benefit fraud.
Individuals who suspect they've been a victim of unemployment benefit fraud or identity theft can file a report online.
DES also recommends they monitor their credit report for any fraudulent activity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.