The New Jersey Attorney General's Office has announced that eight people have been indicted for allegedly stealing about $100,000 in unemployment insurance benefits -- while they were serving time behind bars.

David Silverman, Getty Images
David Silverman, Getty Images

It turns out the problem of unemployment insurance theft in New Jersey is a lot more pervasive than you might imagine.

"Unemployment benefit theft has been a major problem for years, and our efforts since February of 2010 have netted $448 million in fraud savings that we have stopped from going out the door," said New Jersey Department of Labor commissioner Hal Wirths.

Wirths said only a few years ago there were literally thousands of people per week hitting the system and taking funds that didn't belong to them.

"And believe it or not, we still have about 1,600 people a week trying to steal funds when they're actually back on the job and working," he said.

To combat the problem, a number of steps have been taken.

"New Jersey is the first state in the nation to use a special ID software program," Wirths said. "Before you file for UI you have to go through identity-proofing, and then we use dozens of different cross-checking on home addresses and accounts and different things."

In addition, he said the department is also using a software program designed to catch identity cheats from other countries.

"In cutting down on waste and fraud, the money that we saved actually made the UI trust fund go into solvency two years ahead of projections," Wirths said. "There's always going to be people trying to get into the system, but we're doing our best to stay one step ahead of them."

His advice to any would-be insurance thief is: forget about it.

"They should know we're going to come after them, and we're going to catch you," he said. "You may think you can get away with it -- our investigation may be behind, but we're going to get you -- it's a crime and we're going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law we have."

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