Unemployment insurance fraud is its own crime in Michigan. State officials say it’s rising, as some people look to turn an easy buck on the social safety net, reports the Detroit Free Press. “You have a system that was designed to help people make ends meet during some of the darkest hours of their lives,” said Stephen Geskey, director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. “When you have people engaged in fraud, that’s a problem.”
State figures show that fraud cases — tiny compared with the number of people receiving benefits — rose dramatically in 2009: 3,206 cases involving more than $6.2 million in overpayment. Both figures are up almost 40% over 2008 numbers. The state has a dozen investigators who search for fraudulent claims. Most fraud cases are handled administratively, with a notice to the recipient to repay the ill-gotten gains. Egregious cases prompt criminal charges. In Michigan, unemployment insurance fraud is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of four times the amount of the fraud. If illegally obtained benefits exceed $25,000, the crime is a felony and penalties increase, though judges tend to focus on restitution rather than jail time.