COTTAGE GROVE (WKOW) -- Mary Lueck did a double take when she opened a letter the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development sent addressed to her husband. The letter stated James Lueck's application of unemployment insurance benefits had been rejected due to a lack of recent employment history. James Lueck died five years ago.
"Wow, he came back," Mary Lueck said with a laugh when asked what her first thought was upon receipt of the letter.
When she stopped laughing, Lueck figured someone must have stolen James' identity. With his banking information now changed, Lueck did not worry about scammers immediately raiding her savings but was nevertheless concerned that someone had her late husband's Social Security Number and was trying to use it.
"I'm trying to wait until I'm 70 to draw my own Social Security," Lueck said. "So, right now, I'm drawing on his."
Emily Savard, a DWD Program and Policy Analyst, said she suspects it was another instance of scammers using a stolen identity to try obtaining unemployment payouts.
"We have seen an uptick in these attempts at identity theft and scamming unemployment," Savard said.
Savard said between mid-March and mid-June, DWD has flagged approximately 6,000 fraudulent unemployment claims. Those claims totaled about $19 million that would have gone out the door. Savard said the DWD does not have any data on how many of those attempts came from scammers using a deceased person's stolen identity.
Savard added the DWD cross-checks unemployment applications against other state records.
"Checks we do with the Social Security Administration, checks such as 'hey, there's no employer on record,' things like sending out verification to employers who are on record," Savard said.
Savard said death records are part of the cross-checking process; she could not answer for why Lueck's death certificate wasn't acknowledged in the letter sent to him. Mary Lueck said while she's still puzzled about how her husband's death didn't raise any red flags at DWD as it processed his application, she said her biggest hope is for someone to catch the scammer who stole her late husband's identity.
"He was a jokester," Lueck said. "But I don't think it's him doing it, not really."
Savard said the DWD has a section on its website dedicated to complaints for fraudulent unemployment applications, including those involving identity theft. Anyone who suspects a case of a fraudulent unemployment application can request an investigation here.