GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan teacher received a letter from the state threatening to garnish her wages unless she repays unemployment dollars she should not have received.
The problem is she didn’t receive them.
Alison Bydalek, a second grade teacher in Jenison Public Schools, learned last May that someone had applied for benefits in her name.
By the time she was notified, the state had already paid the identity thieves who stole Bydalek’s name more than $7,000 in unemployment benefits.
The long-time teacher, who has never filed for unemployment, immediately contacted the state to report the fraud and filled out the necessary paperwork.
She thought she was in the clear when she received a letter from the state in October that said “Notice to potential identity theft victims” across the top.
The letter said that as long as Bydalek had already reported the fraud, no other action was needed, and the state would not try to collect the money.
But then she received a letter Jan. 5 entitled “Notice of Garnishment.”
It threatened to order her employer to garnish her wages if she did not repay the state.
“This has just been a living nightmare,” said Bydalek in a Zoom call with Target 8 investigators.
“And with this recent notice of my wages possibly being garnished, I was like, ‘OK, we have to figure something out. We’re honestly getting nowhere.'”
Tom TenBrink, superintendent of Jenison Public Schools, said Bydalek was one of hundreds of district employees who had fraudulent claims filed in their names, including him.
While TenBrink said he and the vast majority of the employees were able to resolve the issue, three district employees, including Bydalek, are still struggling with the Unemployment Insurance Agency over it.
“We have teachers now who are more or less being harassed… in regards to having to repay dollars (they never received),” said TenBrink. “They’ve got enough on their plates without having to worry about repaying fraudulent claims that unemployment paid out to somebody else using their identity.”
TenBrink said the district will do everything it can to fight the issue on behalf of the impacted teachers.
The state told Target 8 it received 200,000 reports of fraud or identity theft since the start of the pandemic.
It also said, “in nearly every one of these instances,” the state had already identified the fraud and, therefore, did not disburse any funds.
“(Bydalek’s situation) is an unfortunate example of a fraudulent claim filed in this person’s name,” wrote Lynda Robinson of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.
“In October, a group of individuals who were affected were sent a letter… stating that we believe they are likely victims of ID theft and that there is no risk of any collections action being taken. To resolve the matter of fraudulent charges from individuals accounts, each one of these matters requires human involvement and a process that cannot be performed by a computer,” wrote Robinson in an email to Target 8.
UIA’s response to Target 8 suggested the state needs more time to resolve the issue but that victims will not be penalized or forced to repay any fraudulent benefits.
The state did not address why Bydalek and others have received garnishment notices.
Target 8 will continue to contact the UIA on behalf of Bydalek and others.
Lynda Robinson of UIA instructed victims of unemployment fraud or ID theft to “immediately report the fraud with as much information as possible.”
She also said they can schedule an appointment with a UIA representative if needed by going online.
“Hundreds of UIA fraud cases have been referred to law enforcement,” wrote Robinson. “These cases often involve large fraud rings. The UIA will continue to work with law enforcement through the state’s task force to help identify, locate and prosecute suspected criminals.”
***Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misspelled Alison Bydalek’s last name. It has been corrected. We regret the error.***