When the Bergen County couple filing for unemployment certified they were "able and looking for work," they did so the same way thousands of others do from home every week — by logging into the state Department of Labor website.
The online world, however, is not quite as anonymous as many believe. Every computer carries a unique electronic address so it can be found on the internet, and what alerted state investigators to this particular claim was the location of the network being used. It was not in New Jersey. It was registered to Royal Caribbean Cruises in Miami, and no one was under any illusion that the couple was looking for work at sea.
Unemployment fraud is a multimillion-dollar business in New Jersey, say officials, with 1,600 to 2,000 attempts to bilk the system each week — from the couple on vacation certifying they were able to work while cruising to the Bahamas, to hackers from all over the world trying to game the system, to people still trying to collect unemployment benefits even after finding new jobs.
"No one likes to be ripped off, but the volume of money we put out is staggering," said Harold Wirths, the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
New Jersey’s Unemployment Trust Fund went broke in 2009, not only under the strain of the severe recession that led to high unemployment levels, but from years of fraud that went on through decades of neglect. Wirths said the fund is now solvent again, due in part to anti-fraud measures being put into play that he said have saved the state $448.7 million the past three years.