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Two South Carolina Women Arrested for Alleged Unemployment Insurance Fraud
DEW Continues to Actively Investigate Fraud, Prosecute Criminal Activity and Protect the Benefits of Unemployed South Carolinians
A St. Matthews woman and a Charleston woman have been arrested for allegedly committing financial identity fraud in order to receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
23-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Gates is currently facing six counts of financial identity fraud charges. Gates was arrested by the Calhoun County Sherriff’s Office on January 8, 2021 for allegedly hijacking the victim’s unemployment insurance claim by first offering assistance to the victim, who was a friend. The investigation revealed that Gates admitted to assisting the victim in setting up an electronic deposit for her UI claim and then is accused of later changing the bank account information to the defendant’s own personal bank account. The alleged criminal activity is believed to have taken place between May and June of 2020.
39-year-old Michelle Rufus, of Charleston, was arrested by the North Charleston Police Department on January 26, 2021 and has been charged with two counts of financial identity fraud. The investigation began when a victim reported that someone had used her identity to file for unemployment benefits. The victim states she realized her identity was compromised when she became unemployed and was unable to file for UI benefits because someone had already done so using her name and information. In a sworn statement to police after her arrest, Rufus confessed to buying the victim’s personal information online and using it to file a fraudulent claim for unemployment benefits.
These cases were investigated by local law enforcement in close partnership with the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce’s Integrity Unit and Office of General Counsel.
“The allegations in this matter are two prime examples of identity theft fraud, which is one of the largest categories of fraud that our department deals with in our integrity investigations. Investigations of this type of theft take an extensive amount of time and collaboration between our Integrity Unit and our law enforcement partners. In this specific case, we want to thank the Calhoun County Sherriff’s Office and the North Charleston Police Department for their dedication to bringing these investigations to a close,” stated Executive Director Dan Ellzey. “The pandemic and the federal programs have presented unemployment agencies around the country with fraud challenges. Our agency has implemented multiple prevention and detection measures over the past year and will continue to do so in order to protect our claimants and ensure that benefits reach the individuals and families that need financial support during this crisis.”
How You Can Help Stop Fraud: Report It!
If you know of someone who is receiving benefits fraudulently, help South Carolinians in the state who are legitimately unemployed and in need of these benefits by reporting the information to the Department of Employment and Workforce by filling out the fraud form on the dew.sc.gov UI Fraud page.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you are asked to file a police report with your local authorities and submitting a “Report ID Theft” fraud form to the Department of Employment and Workforce.
UI Fraud Penalties
If DEW finds you committed UI fraud, you will be disqualified from receiving benefits for up to 52 weeks, you will have to repay any benefits you improperly received, and you will have to pay a civil penalty. Providing false information is a crime and subjects you to legal action with fines up to $100,000 and imprisonment up to 10 years. In addition to local law enforcement, DEW partners with the SC Attorney General and the United States Department of Labor to find and prosecute UI fraud.
Those found guilty of fraud over $50,000 can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and face $100,000 in fines. Those found guilty of fraud between $10,000 -$50,000, can face up to 5 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.
Fraud Prevention Tips
The agency actively communicates with claimants about fraud attempts and the most recent criminal activity to help them protect themselves. Attached is a one-page overview with some of this information.
About the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce
The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce is putting South Carolinians to work. The agency has four missions: (1) workforce development; (2) free job match employment services; (3) unemployment insurance; and (4) labor market information. All four missions contribute to workforce development. The agency is dedicated to advancing South Carolina through services and programs that meet the needs of our businesses, jobseekers and those looking to advance their careers.