MONTPELIER – The Vermont Department of Labor’s online unemployment claims system has been temporarily disabled since Wednesday due to a sharp increase in fraudulent claims.
On Monday, Commissioner Michael Harrington detailed what the department is doing to get things back up and running. He also explained that there’s been a sharp increase in fraudulent claims throughout the past couple of months.
“What we started to see on Wednesday evening was a mass-filing effort of fraudulent filers of about five to ten applications being submitted per minute,” Harrington said.
The temporary suspension of Vermont’s online U.I. system came days after the federal government asked state officials to review the eligibility of thousands who have used it. In March 2020, Vermont lifted some eligibility requirements to address a growing backlog of claims.
According to VT Digger, the U.S. Labor Department’s acting unemployment administrator told state officials that their decision to pay people before establishing eligibility created a ‘substantial compliance issue.’
Governor Phil Scott was asked about that on Friday.
“We were in a crisis situation at the time through no fault of our own, and because of a 50 year-old mainframe and all of the hoops and hurdles that we would have had to go through, we couldn’t make it work without having Vermonters suffer,” he said. “That’s why we’re in the position we’re in today, I’ll take some responsibility for that, but I still think it was the right thing to do.”
As the Vermont Department of Labor works to strengthen its fraud prevention measures for unemployment, Vermonters can still file a first-time claim or open a new benefit year by calling the U.I. Claimant Assistance Center at 877-214-3330.
Harrington said it could take some time to get the system back online, because officials want to make sure the issue is thoroughly understood and addressed.
“When we started to see the spike, we knew right off the bat they had found a way to manipulate the online application and the system,” Harrington said. “What we have said internally is that we’re not going to put it back online until we’re sure as we can be that we’ve taken every step to prevent fraud from going into the system.”
If you get anything in the mail from the Vermont Department of Labor, particularly from the Unemployment Insurance division, and you haven’t applied for benefits, report it to the Department immediately. The tip line can be reached at 802-828-4104.