NJ moves to combat unemployment benefit fraud

BRUCE SHIPKOWSKI, Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey state labor officials have taken another step to combat the theft of unemployment benefits.

Labor Commissioner Harold Wirths said Tuesday an "identity proofing" system recently went online that requires applicants to correctly answer multiple choice questions about themselves before payments are approved. The system is meant to stop identity thieves from filing phony claims.

The measure is the latest by the state to stop claims from people who aren't entitled to unemployment benefits. Officials say anti-fraud efforts over the last 18 months have saved New Jersey $153 million.

The new system uses the applicant's name and details they provide to conduct an instant search that matches the information against data pulled from public records related to the applicant. It then devises specific questions using that background data, such as what type of car the person first owned or previous addresses where they lived.

"Identity thieves who steal a person's name and Social Security number to file a fraudulent claim are unlikely to know some innocuous, but key facts, such as whether a person graduated a certain college or once owned a motorcycle," Deputy Labor Commissioner Aaron Fichtner said. "They also are unlikely to simply guess the correct answers to three or more questions."

Labor Department staff are not informed of the questions posed to the applicant or how they responded, and the system doesn't retain, store or share any of the background data it calls up to verify an identity. Instead, it places a pass or fail designation on the account.

Wirths said claimants who don't pass the identity verification process or decline to participate in it must confirm their identity in person before benefits are paid.