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Fraud: Those scamming system should be punished

Economic news has been abysmal lately. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, our nation’s gross domestic product fell more during the last quarter than in any other quarter in more than 70 years. The Wall Street Journal called it economic contraction at a “record rate.” During that time, jobless claims rose to 1.43 million.

Bureau of Labor Statistics jobless numbers show the national unemployment rate was at 11.1 percent for June. It was 10.4 percent here in West Virginia.

In fact, Workforce West Virginia says it has received more than 350,000 claims for unemployment benefits since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s another problem. Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, says he believes a large portion of those claims are fraudulent.

“For example, we’ve received 104,000 (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) claims,” Adkins told another media outlet. “I don’t think anybody thinks that West Virginia has 104,000 independent contractors or self-employed folks who would be eligible.”

There is room for confusion and error, of course. Most people who found themselves without reliable income in the wake of COVID-19 closures had never before tried to navigate the system. Those who made honest mistakes in that process should not be punished for their errors.

But those who intentionally tried to cash in on this crisis should be, once thorough investigations are complete.

“There’s a couple different scams that the FBI has identified that are coming out of — of all places — Nigeria,” Adkins told another media outlet. “But there are folks in West Virginia, too, that have tried to game the system.”

No matter where they are, those who are preying on fragile state economies during this crisis must be found, stopped, ordered to pay back the money, and feel the full force of the law.

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