The IRS requirement of identity verification has drawn lots of criticism and complaints from regular consumers. When applying for unemployment benefits through online services, many experience issues with accounts and ID verification.

One of the ID.me users has left a complaint on Pissed Consumer reporting that after ten forms of ID verification, he still couldn’t move to a video call to get his ID verified for unemployment benefits. We decided to dig into the problem as this complaint resonates with many others left on our website.

To find answers, we interviewed Andrew Stettner, an unemployment expert with The Century Foundation, and Bryan Seely, a cyber security expert. In this video, experts share their commentary on verification services, unemployment, privacy issues, and risks involved for consumers.

Learn more about applying for unemployment benefits, cyber security risks involved, and get tips to resolve issues.

How to Apply for Unemployment Compensation?

Andrew Stettner: That you lose a job through no fault of your own.

Mark (the reviewer): So I lost my job in March.

Andrew Stettner: I know it's a real pain in the neck. Typically, are that you're someone who has been working, for at least six to nine months, that you lose a job through no fault of your own.

Mark (the reviewer): So I lost my job in March of 2020 due to the pandemic. I applied for unemployment for the State of Florida and was approved.

Andrew Stettner: Through some of these pandemic programs, you also would have to provide some documentation of your work history, and what we'll be talking about today, which is a very new requirement, especially for the PUA program.

Mark (the reviewer): On September 1st of this year, the State of Florida added an extra level of security with a company called ID.me.

Andrew Stettner: Some proof of identification that you are, who you say you are. It's a very new requirement for unemployment insurance that you'd have to provide that information.

Mark (the reviewer): And for a period of two weeks and 24 emails of which I've got copies back and forth, "We're sorry, we have a problem."

Andrew Stettner: These are generally self-guided applications where you have to fill out a set of questionnaires about your situation. It sometimes goes through identity verification requirements as well.

Mark (the reviewer): So this company has contracts with the State of Florida, Arizona, California. They have military government contracts.

Andrew Stettner: ID.me is a private company, but they meet some standards by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the second level standard for identity verification, they had a product in place, and then it really just caught on among the states. There were several different vendors in the space, but this is the one that really got very popular.

Mark (the reviewer): And you have to show your social security number. I don't know. I just, I don't get it.

Andrew Stettner: It was such a barrier that it also is catching a lot of people, that are not committing fraud, that are just trying to apply for the benefits that they deserve and have earned. And it's made it harder for everyone to get benefits.

Our understanding among the states that have used it is that it has made an impact on these criminal syndicates. It has helped to curb that, not eliminate it, but has kept a curb. And it's been more difficult for these syndicates to foil. You can request and the request, you do it through a web form to speak to a trusted referee.

The trusted, that's a fancy name, but it's one that they're required to use, to adhere to this federal standard from NIST. That's the standard that they would do if you have a problem with it. And that would be a phone or video link that you would talk to that trusted referee and you request that online.

 I've certainly heard people have had to wait a long time, not just hours, maybe days or weeks to get an appointment with a trusted referee, because the company has really expanded very quickly. There's no customer service phone number that you can call and ask questions. Your only option is to go through the trusted referee process.

How to File for Unemployment Benefits?

Andrew Stettner: It's very worthwhile for you to prepare yourself before the application. A lot of people will answer a question in the application that will deem you ineligible, but you've really just not understood the question. A super common one, if you say you're fired from your job, you will likely face a very lengthy interview and investigation before you get unemployment benefits. If you said you were laid off from your job, you will get benefits very quickly.

Now, if you pull up your dictionary, your Webster's Dictionary, you will see that fired and laid off are what we call synonyms. For most people, they mean the same thing, but legally for unemployment benefits, it means something very different. 

Laid off means that it was something going wrong with the business, where you lost your work. Fired general means it's something you did wrong. But not everyone thinks about it that way, so you could just easily click the wrong button on the application, and you would lose all of your benefits.

Mark (the reviewer): Call Tallahassee, call the governor's office, leave a message. Many people have the attitude of, well, I'm only one person. What can one person do? I'm a little nothing. If you think one little thing can't make a difference, spend one night in a room with a mosquito. So, at least say something, do something, write a letter, make a phone call, send an email.

Andrew Stettner: I always say to be loud and try to complain to as many places as you can. What do I mean? Remember, it's a state program. So complain to your state-elected representatives. That may be your state senator, your state assembly member, your state house of delegates member. Complain to the governor's office. 

The Legal Services Corporation is the national umbrella of free legal services. You can go on their website, you'll see a map of every place in America and what your legal services program is. Facebook groups, Reddit forums, others can be great sources of information to get advice about how to unstick a particular problem in your state.

About the Identification Issue with ID.me Service

Mark (the reviewer): I had logged on to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to continue my application for unemployment. They had now added an extra layer of security with a company called ID.me. They could not verify my identity after two weeks and 60 hours of showing them all sorts of government ID, driver's licenses, passports, W-2 forms. 

I became incredibly frustrated, could not log onto the website. And eventually just contacted Pissedconsumer.com, who was kind enough to post a video, which moved the process forward.

Andrew Stettner: In general, states are directed to have a process, to have you able to get those back benefits if you have a good cause or reason for where you were laid. Now, Florida, where this caller is writing from is not a very flexible state. They're very restrictive. I'm not familiar with the specific rules, but they may have rules, they may have systems that freeze you out.

Mark (the reviewer): They claimed that the last couple digits of my social security were not readable on the screen. And I had said to them, "All you needed to do was call me, and I would be glad to hold up on the screen. I mean, you can clearly see me. You can see my face. And I had again, eight forms of identification, which I would hold up for you to see." 

And the fact that I had claimed unemployment for eight months with no problem, but their claim was that, no, they would not call me until the forms of identification had been sent via their link. But I know the department that contacted me was their social media department. So they did not like having a video posted, which was polite. There was no bad language used, but it was rather strongly worded that they were not responsive.

Is It Safe for One Company to Store the Identity Information?

Brian Seely: Having one company be able to store and access and have a lot of really sensitive stuff is a terrible idea. Any one company. There needs to be a better way of doing or having some sort of framework and legislation around either having multiple companies or zero trust in between things and different companies holding different pieces because of the Office of Personnel Management of the US Government... 

So the people who do all of our clearances for the military in the government, they were breached. So what happens when ID.me gets breached? So we don't get to know what they're all doing in terms of cybersecurity policy, all the different security controls. It's just a bad idea.

Can You Trust Identity Verification Services?

Andrew Stettner: There has been a lot of identity theft with unemployment benefits. Usually, the information hasn't been stolen from ID.me or the state itself. It's been stolen from another third-party source. 

Typically, people that have that happen is, they might apply for unemployment benefits today and they say, "Wait a second. You already got your unemployment benefits because someone was impersonating you. And you'll have to..." Or they may get a tax return in the mail, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people got those in January this year. 

That said, they got something in the mail that they received 20,000 unemployment benefits in 2020, "please include in your taxes." People never got any benefits. Someone else had impersonated them and changed their address and everything. So, that has been very common. 

I think ID.me, too soon to know whether they'll be able to secure information. But in general, I haven't seen that be a complaint that's come against ID.me. So in short, I think people should feel safe in sharing that information as part of this application.

How to Solve Issue with Unemployment Compensation?

Mark (the reviewer): I'm extremely pleased to report and much to my surprise, after a video was posted, I actually get an email from ID.me. This was resolved 100%. Regrettably, it was resolved three months after it should have been resolved. 

Your firm posted my video stating what the problem was, what it was that I needed, how dissatisfied I was with the problem that I had with ID.me. And as a result of that, their social media department did not like the bad press, if you will, that was out there. And they ultimately contacted me and got it resolved, literally, I think maybe it was a total of 40 minutes from start to finish.

Andrew Stettner: If the state is not going to pay your benefits, you are required to get a written notification that you've been denied benefits. In that written notification, which will typically come by US mail, there will be a piece of it where it explains your right to appeal. You will typically have 15 days or 30 days from the date on that notice to file an appeal. That appeal will give you a chance.

You'll be scheduled for it. It should be within 30 days, I would say it's averaging more around 90 days right now. You'll have a chance to have typically now a phone hearing with a referee. You do not have to have a lawyer. You can, of course, have one if you choose.

And you'll be able to present the evidence and say, hey, look, I was denied benefits because I didn't pass ID.me, but here I am. I'm living here. Here's my utility bill. My landlord was going to join the hearing. He's going to vouch for me and who I am. Here's my old boss. He's going to also vouch for me on the hearing. Because they'll be required to be notified about the hearing and say, yeah, no, Carolyn really worked for us. And then the referee can say, you know what? I'm ruling that you are monetarily eligible. You will get your benefits.

So the appeal, when you get that notice, even if it's overwhelming, you're not sure what you're going to say at that appeal, you don't have all your documents, it doesn't matter. Go ahead, fill out the form. If it's a paper form, it would be something you'd write in.

If it's an online form, you'll type it in. Type in your situation. Get that appeal in. Even if you don't feel like you understand everything going on or your complete case, get that in within that 15 to 30-day window.

Conclusion

If you are denied unemployment benefits because you can’t pass verification through ID.me, file an appeal within 15 to 30 days, and you’ll get a chance. Use the above tips shared by experts to resolve your problems with verification and claim unemployment compensation.

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1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.

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