CINCINNATI — Monique Colbert of Westwood got the bug to get better nutrition into the bodies of her friends and neighbors a couple of years before the health scare called COVID-19 hit, inspired to switch from baking to juicing as she was taking care of her sick mother.
“I felt bad about giving a lot of the sweets and things away," Colbert said. "I felt like it wasn’t good for people… especially in our community where we got a lot of food deserts and things like that, and people not getting a lot of fruits and vegetables and healthy organic items and things like that so... I was juicing for myself and then other people just started asking if I would juice for them.”
But Colbert’s side-hustle “juicing” fruits and vegetables has all but stalled after scammers hacked her unemployment benefits.
Colbert told WCPO she lost her primary job in customer service for the medical field in March, and it appears the website she went to in order to apply for unemployment benefits was fake.
“On June 1, I went to go look, and it said that it was paid out, and I kept going, 'Paid out where?'" Colbert said. "So I kept checking my account. I’m like it’s not in my account."
Colbert is one of thousands defrauded amid the pandemic in Ohio who have little recourse.
“They’re just saying that ‘Hey you know you got hacked and there’s really nothing else we can do,’” Colbert said.
Colbert was directed to file a fraud complaint with the FBI, and now she must wait to see if agents can locate the fraudsters who are likely in other countries.
Ironically, Colbert says the $3,000 she had stolen from her would have been enough to buy her “dream juicer” and get her closer to her dream career of juicing full time.
Instead, as Colbert looks for other work, she is churning out what juice she can from a small machine, hard pressed to recover the money meant to help her. But, she's hopeful.
“There’s still hope for that and everything," Colbert said. "It’s just making me have to look at things differently and find other ways to get it done. I know I’m not the only one. I’m just wondering why is that OK? Why is it OK for us to lose such a big chunk of money like that and people walk away with it, and there’s nothing else that we can do?”
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services issued a warning in April about two particular fraudulent websites that look just like the state’s (ohio-gov.com and ohio.gov). The State of Ohio’s actual unemployment website is jfs.ohio.gov and the state has issued these warnings:
To avoid potential fraud Ohioans should:
• Ignore all unsolicited text messages and never click on hyperlinks in emails or text messages that look suspicious.
• Log in each week to your account and review personal information such as physical address, email address, and banking information.
• Remember that ODJFS will not contact you to ask for your username or password.
If individuals notice a change in their account information, they should:
• Report immediately by calling 833-658-0394. ODJFS will then work with you to verify your identity and provide you with next steps, such as changing your Personal Identification Number (PIN) and reporting the theft to law enforcement.
ODJFS officials have said they are continuing to work closely with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Cyber Crime Unit to stop fraudulent activities and find the criminals behind them.
If you need help with your unemployment benefits and are willing to go on camera, email Julie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org.