Department of Labor (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

Connecticut labor officials have experienced a surge in unemployment claims in recent weeks and suspect that about 75% of them are fraudulent filings made by criminals using stolen identities, according to a Wednesday press release. 

The agency asked that employers contact the department if they receive unemployment notification claims for still-employed workers. 

Meanwhile, residents may receive monetary determination letters notifying them that someone has filed an unemployment claim using their identity. Residents who have not filed a claim but receive the notifications or a 1099 tax form from the Labor Department should report the communications to the police and on the department’s Identity Theft Report form. 

In a press release, Labor Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo said that employers are often the first to learn of a fraudulent claim because her department immediately notifies businesses when a claim is filed against them. In fraudulent cases, that employee often still works for the employer. 

 “It’s critical that employers and employees report this fraud to CTDOL so we can protect benefits and the Trust Fund from fraud,” Bartolomeo said. 

Stolen identity information like names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers were easily available online during the pandemic and criminals were still using the information to target Connecticut’s unemployment system, according to the release. 

As of Wednesday, the state’s unemployment tax and benefit system, ReEmployCT, was receiving “several thousand claims per day,” the agency said. 

Statistics published by the department show that between mid-June and early July the agency received more than 9,000 initial unemployment claims per week, with 10,614 during the week of June 25.

The agency has withheld payment of the 75% of recent claims believed to be fraudulent, according to the press release. 

Between March of 2020 and the end of this May, Labor Department officials identified around 385,000 fraudulent applications resulting in the agency preventing around $3.9 billion from leaving the unemployment fund, a department spokesperson said Thursday.

In a statement on the agency’s “Fraud Watch” webpage, Bartolomeo urged all residents to be watchful for signs of fraud and identity theft. 

“Something as simple as posting on social media that you have questions about your unemployment benefits is enough information to help criminals hijack your identity,” she said. “Be fraud aware. Always.”