Not telling the truth about your employment status and claiming you are searching for work when you are not is a form of unemployment benefit fraud. This is a serious charge and you can get jail time if you are convicted. State and federal authorities will take an especially dim view of unemployment benefit fraud in this time of higher unemployment during the coronavirus.
What Is the Unemployment Insurance Benefits Program?
The unemployment insurance benefits program, or UI, is intended to offer people an income when they are out of work, were laid off, or are unemployed for reasons they cannot control. Every state has its own UI program that is run in conjunction with the federal unemployment program.
Work Search Mandate Suspended During COVID-19 Pandemic in Some States
State laws dictate who is eligible to receive unemployment payments, as well as figure out the penalties for people who abused the program by engaging in fraud. In some cases where people abuse the unemployment program, unemployment benefit fraud charges are possible. (DC.gov)
Usually, to receive unemployment benefits, you are required to search for work. This means you must make a certain number of job contacts each week to continue to receive unemployment benefits. Some states have suspended the work search requirement for those who plan to go back to their previous employer eventually.
It is likely that most states will restart work search requirements as the COVID-19 pandemic fades. Review your state labor department’s website for the most recent information about job search requirements.
Keep in mind that in most cases, people are required to search for work to continue to receive benefits. The coronavirus exception will be phased out eventually in most states.
Unemployment Insurance Fraud Overview
The majority of unemployment insurance fraud cases happen after a worker purposely makes false statements or misrepresentations to get unemployment benefit payments. If you lie, misrepresent, or engage in an intentional act that leads to you receiving UI benefits for which you are not eligible, you can be hit with fraud charges. Below are some examples of how people can be charged with this serious crime.
Failing to Report Employment
Some workers who apply for UI eventually find a job. When this occurs, people who get unemployment payments must report their new employment, and how much they are earning, to the unemployment office in their state. If they do not and continue to receive unemployment that has not been adjusted for their current earnings, this is unemployment benefits fraud.
False Identification, Information, or Identity Theft
Some workers may attempt to receive UI payments by submitting applications with false or misleading information. For example, an applicant who uses a fake name, or uses the personal information of another person to obtain UI benefits, is committing insurance fraud.
On the same note, turning in false information about income, employment status, or related issues can lead to fraud charges.
Misrepresenting Employment Efforts
A person must actively seek employment to receive UI benefits in any state. Someone who does not seek unemployment actively while reporting to the state office that they are looking for work is committing unemployment benefit fraud.
Legal Defenses to Unemployment Benefit Fraud Charges
In any criminal case, including UI fraud cases, the legal defenses available to a person charged with a crime differs depending on the situation. But many unemployment benefit fraud charge cases involve these defenses:
- No criminal intent: There is no way to commit unemployment insurance fraud accidentally. For you to be convicted of this crime, you must purposely make misrepresentations, conceal, lie, or do something else to receive fraudulent payments. If, for instance, you accidentally underreport your income when you apply for UI benefits, this is not fraud.
- No evidence: The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed a crime. In some fraud cases, the evidence is not strong enough. If the state cannot prove their case, you can be acquitted.
Possible Penalties for Unemployment Benefit Fraud
If you are convicted of unemployment benefit fraud, you can face civil and criminal penalties. Civil penalties usually involve fines. Criminal penalties may involve incarceration, probation, fines, and other penalties. Each state has its won laws that apply in unemployment fraud cases: (EDD.CA.gov)
- Repayment: Anyone convicted of this crime must make restitution to the state office that made the payments. If you do not have enough money to pay back the money, the state may garnish your wages.
- Incarceration: This crime may be a misdemeanor or felony defense, depending on state laws and individual case circumstances. Misdemeanors usually have a maximum term of one year in jail, but convictions for felonies can lead to years in state prison. For example, it is a Class B misdemeanor in some states if the fraudulent payments were less than $500, but if the payments were more than $1500, the crime is a 3rd-degree felony. (gov)
- Probation: Courts may order you to a term of probation. You will need to report to a probation officer, seek permission before leaving the state, and not being involved with known criminals.
- Fines: In addition to paying restitution, you may have to pay a fine which can vary from state to state.
Summary of Unemployment Benefit Fraud Charges
UI benefit fraud is a serious crime, and it is important never to take advantage of state programs to help citizens with much-needed funds when they are out of work. If you have been charged with this crime, it is recommended to talk to a criminal defense attorney right away.