$700M in jobless aid stolen in Texas during pandemic

In new numbers obtained by ABC13, suspicious claims of fraud grew 300 times over from 2019. So, here are some ways to protect yourself.

Video Transcript

- Well, with Texans receiving those boosted benefits, it's very lucrative for cyber thieves to try and go after that extra cash. And in just the past few weeks, the number of fraud cases that we've learned about have nearly doubled. Let's go ahead and show you the numbers that we exclusively learned today about the situation.

Now the number of fraud cases during the pandemic in Texas are now above 600,000. The money lost from those cases is nearly $700 million. Now the good news is the number could have been a lot higher. State officials say they stopped more than 500,000 fraud cases before any money was lost. But the number of cases this year blows away what the state has ever witnessed before. Officials say they're updating systems and working with other states to try and curb this issue.

- We're not going to sit here and wait back and wait for the end of the pandemic and then try to redo the system. We're going to do what we can with the tools we have and continue to improve the system.

- Identity theft, experts fear, this may only be the beginning. Soon boosted benefits will end, however stimulus money that our stimulus bills that sent billions of dollars to other state programs, well, it's possible thieves could target those next.

- There are going to be other forms of fraud that involve state agencies that now the cyber criminals will turn to. They'll start looking for, what can I do to use the same playbook I just used on unemployment fraud? What else can I use that for?

- Yeah, it's really scary how they're so easily able to get in there and steal all of these millions of from Texas taxpayers. Well, even if you haven't applied for unemployment benefits, haven't needed it during the pandemic, this could still impact you. Here's how.

So the state gets its money to pay for unemployment benefits through taxes on business owners. Well, in order to make up for that lost funds they may have to increase those taxes. This could mean businesses may not hire as many people, or they might pass that higher tax onto you the consumer in higher priced products. Now the state says it's making improvements, in this month alone was able to spot 90% of fraud cases before any money went out. But still, we ask specifically what the state is doing to make sure more of your tax dollars aren't stolen.

- I can't speak to specifics, because we don't want to give the fraudsters any advantages. But we have been improving our system throughout the process. We have a fairly good system, but of course there's only so much you can do to improve the system in the middle of a pandemic.

- Now state leaders say they do not want this to mean higher taxes for business owners. They plan to go after cyber criminals to try to recover that money. I did talk to experts. They say it may be possible. They may be able to get some of the money back. But a lot of these cyber thieves are very sophisticated. They are overseas and is most likely the state will never see a lot of that money again.