By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners are considering offering an identity theft protection benefit to county employees after rampant unemployment insurance fraud in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioners, at their weekly meeting Monday morning in El Reno, heard a presentation from Lynn Hardin and Shirley Mears of IDShield and LegalShield about identity theft protection membership plans now available.
Company representatives cited the copious quantity of false unemployment claims – most linked to coronavirus pandemic layoffs – that have been filed through the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
In Oklahoma County, Hardin reported some 800 bogus claims were filed and their county commissioners agreed to help pay for ID theft protection for their employees.
With Canadian County starting annual budget talks, County Commission Chairman Marc Hader asked fellow commissioners if this benefit should be offered to Canadian County’s estimated 385 employees. Some employees have asked whether the county could provide this.
The total cost is $18.95 per month for each county employee, and the county would cover $8.95 of that amount as a benefit.
Chairman Hader believes this could be a “good investment” to give Canadian County employees “reassurance” and “comfort” while protecting them in case someone tries to steal their identity.
Canadian County Clerk Sherry Murray reported unemployment fraud activity from March 24 through July 6:
Canadian County received 216 claims, 46 of which were unknown names who never worked for the county. The county received 205 wage verification requests for unemployment claims.
Most of the claims and requests were for active full-time employees and thus fraud, according to Murray.
Citing the increased paperwork that comes with offering more employee benefits, Murray said county officials should have at least 25% participation in the program.
County commissioners took no action Monday morning, but agreed to discuss the ID theft protection membership proposal with other Canadian County officers and department directors at the next 2020-21 county budget meeting.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has investigated tens of thousands of fictitious unemployment claims since mid-March and is reviewing other suspicious filings.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in May launched an Unemployment Fraud Task Force to investigate the fraudulent claims in Oklahoma and identify those responsible for the criminal activity.
The action came after businesses and government agencies across the state started laying off employees due to a shutdown prompted by concerns about the novel coronavirus.
“We are hearing from citizens, businesses, municipalities and state agencies that fraudulent unemployment claims are rampant across the state,” Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation director Ricky Adams said this spring.
“Not only are Oklahomans having to deal with their identity being stolen, but those that are truly unemployed and have applied for benefits are having their claims slowed down by thousands of fraudulent claims clogging up the system.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said it is unacceptable for “con artists” to use a crisis like the current pandemic “as a way to take advantage of Oklahomans who continue to suffer.”
ROAD GRINDING PROJECT
Also, at their Monday morning meeting, Canadian County Commissioners awarded a $35,000 low bid to SWM Construction for a 7.8-mile road grinding project on various roads in District 3.
There were two other bidders – Haskell Lemon Construction at $106,470 and JLT Contracting LLC for $175,718.40.
“Wow, that’s quite the range,” District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said of the bid amounts. “I would not have expected that big of a difference.”
Hader, the District 1 county commissioner, suggested that some contractors are hungry for work.
In other business at the weekly meeting, the commissioners approved:
•Draw requests to BancFirst for construction services at the future county fairgrounds’ site – $701,759.99 to Lingo Construction for construction management services for May and June and $7,058.40 to Metco for soil testing.
These will be paid from loan proceeds.
•An independent contractor agreement for on-call engineering services for fiscal year 2020 between Guy Engineering and Canadian County Commissioners.
•Transferring Kronos time clocks from the county commissioners’ office to the county free fair office and sheriff’s office, and a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickup from the assessor’s office to the commissioners’ office.