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Iowa Workforce Development bigwigs hide when reporters come asking question about fraud, data breach

Scott Carpenter, a reporter for KCCI-TV, called me Monday. He was working on a story about Iowa Workforce Development, the fancy name our state government gives the unemployment office.

Carpenter asked me if I was willing to be interviewed. I declined. I’ve got nothing against Carpenter. I don’t work for the news media anymore. I like the idea that I can say no after nearly 30 years of almost always having to say yes.

Still, I talked to Carpenter about my situation for a few minutes. I told him he could use my name in his story if he wanted. He didn’t. That’s OK.

Carpenter asked me if I’d heard anything about a data breech at the unemployment office. I hadn’t. They told me my identity had been stolen and that attempted fraud may delay payments indefinitely, which I’ve written about on this blog.

I watched Carpenter’s story on KCCI’s website Monday evening. He got an interview with a disabled vet who went three weeks without an unemployment check. Carpenter asked for a Zoom interview with someone from the unemployment office to clarify the fraud problem.

He received a message from Ryan Ward, Iowa Workforce Development deputy director. Ward’s message read, “Iowa Workforce Development does not have the availability to do a Zoom interview and Iowa Workforce Development has not suffered a data breach.”

Ward made more than $153,000 in the last fiscal year for a job titled “public service executive.” I don’t know what that job title entails nor do I begrudge a man his salary, but I fail to see much public service in Ward’s email to Carpenter.

There seem to be some legitimate questions about the security of data at the unemployment office. And there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. We need those “public service executives” to step up and tell us what’s going on even on days things aren’t going so hot.

I don’t know Ward, so I’m going to take him at his word despite my skeptical nature. Maybe he was busy Monday. Maybe all the people who could answer a few questions were busy.

But what I find odd is that later in the day someone at the unemployment office dusted off a laptop and put out a news release that “reports an increase in recent fraudulent activity related to unemployment insurance.” They talked about criminals using sophisticated algorithms to steal data and attempt fraudulent claims for people’s unemployment benefits.

Fucking algorithms, man.

Algorithms have ruined society. Facebook algorithms pushed racist and fake news. Some hackers used algorithms to jack up the prices of stores that were otherwise on the brink of extinction. Russian hackers used algorithms to interfere with the 2016 election. Sports teams use algorithms to make games in all sports duller and more predictable.

If only there was an algorithm to get an obese paragraph stacker through graduate school so he could teach kids how to sling sentences.

I digress.

The news release denied a data breach again and then churned up a bunch of boilerplate language about keeping your data safe.

The news release, as such things often do, left more questions unanswered than answered.

For example, the release says the fraud uptick occurred “recently.” Be specific. Was it the last month, the last six months, Tuesday, how long? And if you can’t – or don’t want to say the time frame – tell us why you don’t want to tell us.

The release says this is a national issue and they’re working with national partners on the issue. How? What are you doing? How are you doing it? Is it yielding any positive results? Have you involved federal agencies?

The disabled veteran KCCI’s Carpenter interviewed says he’s been without a check for three weeks. I haven’t missed any checks yet, but they told me last week I likely would start missing checks because of the fraud investigation.

But I sent Iowa Workforce Development copies of my driver’s license and my Social Security card.

If they want, I’ll come down to the office and somebody can look at me leaning on my cane from six feet away through binoculars.

Or Google me. There are pictures of me on the web from various jobs in the news industry. I have not lived a quiet online life.

What I’m saying is I’ve proven my identity. I’ll bet that veteran has, too. If you know who we are, pay us our benefits and don’t pay the fraudulently set up accounts.

How did “don’t pay anybody” become an option? What is Iowa Workforce Development going to do about that?

The told me I would get back pay. I’m OK for now. My big bills are paid. I’m stocked with groceries. I’ve got my graduate studies to work on, but the longer this goes on, the tighter things will get.

What about those families who can’t go a week, let alone a month or more without their unemployment benefits?

The snide answer is we should all get jobs.

Well, I’m trying. It just so happens that thing I’m very good at, writing newspaper stories, is not a thing valued by greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund managers.

So, I’m learning to be a teacher.

Until then, I’m going to need that benefit, like thousands of other Iowans.

And it would be nice if Ryan Ward, deputy director of Iowa Workforce Development, would earn some of his $153,000 annually by answering a few questions and letting us know when they’re going to fix the problem.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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