Arkansas governor, others targeted in unemployment fraud

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday said scammers fraudulently filed on his behalf for unemployment assistance intended for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as officials said thousands of claims have been frozen over potential fraud concerns.

Hutchinson said he received a notice over the weekend that he had been approved for unemployment assistance intended for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed. Hutchinson said he never applied for the assistance.

“It can happen to anyone," Hutchinson said. The Republican governor said the FBI is investigating a scheme that includes other fraudulent applications.

State Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said 27,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and another 10,000 unemployment claims have been frozen after they were flagged for potential fraud. Preston said several other cabinet secretaries had received similar notices to Hutchinson's.

“We are trying to get through that backlog (of frozen claims) so we can make the payments to those who need that payment and rightfully deserve that payment," Preston said. “But we have to do our due diligence."

Preston said people whose claims have been frozen because of fraud concerns will receive letters detailing how they can verify their identity and allow their claims to move forward. The state is setting up “verification stations" around the state, he said.

Connor Hagan, a spokesman for the FBI's Little Rock office, could not confirm or deny the investigation into the fraudulent claim on Hutchinson's behalf. But Hagan urged victims of unemployment fraud to report the suspected fraud to the state Division of Workforce Services, contact local to police to file an identity theft report and submit a report regarding to fraud to the FBI at www.ic3.gov.

Arkansas in May shut down its pandemic unemployment website for several days after a computer programmer applying for assistance discovered a vulnerability in the system that exposed applicants’ Social Security numbers and other personal information. The FBI is investigating that incident.

Health officials on Tuesday said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 784, bringing the total number of virus cases in the state since the pandemic began in March to 45,381. The department said 6,891 of those cases are active, meaning they don't include people who have died or recovered.

The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The number of people in the state who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose by 15 to 490. The number of people hospitalized increased by 13 to 526.

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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