ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new computer sleuth has stopped $90,000 in unemployment checks that were to be sent in June and July to New Yorkers apparently vacationing abroad and to foreign-based scammers, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday.
The state Department of Labor found more using its own software which, like DiNapoli's method, was adjusted to find online recertification claims made through foreign IP addresses. Now, the difficult process of collecting benefits illegally secured from people in foreign countries through U.S. bank accounts.
DiNapoli said there's no record yet of how long the improper benefits stopped by his office and identified by the Labor Department have been paid out before June. The maximum state benefit is $405 a week.
"Any payments going outside the country — whether to American citizens or foreign nationals gaming the system — there needs to be zero tolerance," DiNapoli told The Associated Press. "How widespread is it? We'll keep looking."
The benefits were transmitted to hundreds of bank accounts and debit cards in countries that include France, Ireland, England, Finland, Jamaica, Greece, Israel, Germany, and the Dominican Republic. Further investigations could lead to charges.
The discovery is part of $1.4 million in unemployment benefits in 2011 that DiNapoli's office stopped that were written out to working people, illegal immigrants and the dead, but were cashed in by others. DiNapoli said his auditors found the state paid nearly $1 million more in benefits to people who didn't qualify for unemployment checks in June and July before the new software could stop the payments.
Among them are 91 recently hired state workers who owe the state $105,000 for overpayment of unemployment benefits, according to DiNapoli's audit.
The Department of Labor was already in the process of updating its computer tracking and strengthening its measures to prevent fraud. Last year, it processed 1 million claims totaling $7.6 billion, so the foreign-bound benefits are just a sliver of the total.
"The auditors questioned only one one-hundredth of a percent," said Labor Department spokesman Leo Rosales. "The Department of Labor maintains robust monitoring and auditing systems to manage unemployment claims filed each year ... The Department has and will continue to support aggressive auditing to ensure the accuracy of all payments."
For about six years, New Yorkers have been able to go online to certify that they are still eligible for unemployment benefits, although they must first apply in person. The online recertification replaces in-person visits in which recipients had to show identification.
A person must be ready and able to work to get a check. Being in another country means they aren't considered ready to work in New York.