MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 850,000 people have filed for unemployment compensation in Tennessee, and scammers are taking advantage by filing false claims, hoping to collect some money.
A business owner in Maryville called WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare after half a dozen people targeted his company claiming they once worked for him; however, he has no employees.
Tom Antkow works from home. He’s the owner and operator of a new business, Adult Driver Services. Tom is the only employee. He set up his company in early spring, having moved to Tennessee from out of state.
At first, his business address was a UPS store in Alcoa where he had opened a post office box. In May, an Erline White filed for state unemployment benefits claiming she had worked for Antkow.
“I’m a corporation, but I’m my only employee. So, the first time I got a notice that someone was filing a claim for unemployment I figured it had to be a mistake,” Antkow said. “Consequently I just discarded the first one, then I got another one. The reason I think it confused some people that were sending these notices is because the P.O. box is actually addressed as a suite.”
Tom says he sent an email to the state explaining someone had sent a fraudulent claim against his company. But he says there was no response.
“I waited and figured they’re back-logged, so, I’ll just wait a few weeks. Suddenly another one came in the mail, then another one. I believe I have gotten seven of them at this point in time,” Antkow said.
In Nashville, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development has hired extra workers to handle the 850,000 unemployment claims made since mid-March.
“We know fraud is a big problem,” Labor Department spokesperson Chris Cannon said. “It’s a big problem for unemployment because so many people are applying right now and that gives criminals the idea that, hey, maybe we can get away with it.”
Cannon says fraudsters have filed fraudulent claims not only against Antkow’s company but many others across the state as well.
“We have been pretty lucky in Tennessee and haven’t had a very large number of fraud cases compared to many other states. Because we have high security on the front end of the application process,” Cannon said.
This false claim made against Tom’s company was stopped by the state’s tight security system.
“So if that claim was to have been approved, they would have had to shown ID to the state. So the security worked because they didn’t get past the application process,” Cannon said.
“Listen, I was annoyed that anyone would commit fraud against the system when we have so many people that need the money. For somebody to just to file a false claim and get taxpayer dollars illegally is distasteful to me,” Antkow said.
Notices sent to employers remind them they have seven days to respond to an unemployment claim.
“No doubt about it. You have to react quickly. Don’t disregard things that come from the state of Tennessee,” Antkow said.
Employers are financially responsible for unemployment benefits. They report and pay federal and state unemployment taxes for each covered employee. The tax can go up depending on how many employees file a claim.
In Tom’s case, the state says it is unlikely he will not face any financial penalties for those illegal claims simply because he has no employees. He has contacted the state about all of the false claims against his business.
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