NEW TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) — Thousands of people in Tennessee lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment benefits have helped fill the gap; but when the state Labor Department suddenly stopped benefits to a Claiborne County woman, she couldn’t get answers about why it happened.
Misty Williams found out she had been hacked, but months before, she was receiving her unemployment check without any hassle.
After filing for an extension, her benefit checks stopped, throwing her life into a tail spin.
Williams lost her job due to the pandemic last year, and for months she successfully received unemployment benefits.
Then in February, she was sent a “warning” message from the Tennessee Department of Labor: Her weekly check was held up.
“It says we cannot find your user name in our system. If you believe you have incorrectly retyped the user name, please re-enter the user name.”
“It put a toll on us, I lost my vehicle, I lost my home.”Misty Williams
Williams is a single mom, with a teenage son, that is now living with her parents.
“She cried day and night, that’s what she’s done.”Brenda McMurray, Misty’s mother
Williams says the issue of her missing unemployment benefits began in early February. She then received a message that really frightened her.
“I tried to recover my account and I got one that says, ‘We have identified an existing account in the system that matches your Social Security number.'”Misty Williams
At that point, Brenda McMurray urged her daughter to give 6 On Your Side a call. We contacted the Labor Department, explained Misty’s situation that her benefits had suddenly stopped, and within a day, she got a call from a state representative.
“She told me within five minutes that my account had been hacked. Someone had gone in and changed my user name, changed the address, tried to change the banking information on it.”Misty Williams
Williams was told a red flag is raised when there’s a request to change banking information. As a result, her account was locked out, but once she confirmed her identity, no benefits were either sent or lost.
Soon, her unemployment benefits will be in her account, and the money will allow her to get back on track.
With her back pay, Williams is hoping to get on her feet again as she continues looking for a job in Claiborne County.
Now, the unemployment rate in Tennessee has dropped over the last year, from a high of 15% a year ago in April, to about 5% now, according to the state Department of Labor.