ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A local business owner said he alerted the state when someone fraudulently filed for unemployment under his name. However, he was having a hard time getting anyone to listen to him. Kevin Lawton owns Futons & Frames on Menaul near Carlisle. “We opened in 1991,” he said. “So, we’ve been here a long time.”

Lawton got a letter from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions earlier this month and figured an employee, he had to let go in March when the pandemic hit, had filed for unemployment. Then, he looked closer and saw that the name on the claim was his own. “I’m not an employee. I’m so easy to trace,” Lawton explained.

The situation went from funny to frustrating, Lawton said. He figured he could clear it all up with a quick phone call. “That’s not what happens,” he said, shaking his head.

When Lawton did get someone on the phone, they asked him for his information to verify his identity. “And she goes, ‘Oh, that’s the total opposite of what we have on file with Kevin Lawton.’ I go, ‘Stop. That’s me!'”

Meanwhile, the letters kept coming. “I receive another really thin letter. So, now I’m sure it’s taken care of,” Lawton said. “And, again, it was not.”

A letter he received last Friday confirmed that Kevin Lawton, or at least the person pretending to be him, is eligible for benefits. “You look at this, just in shock going, it’s me. I’m not in desperate need of money. I’m working seven days a week,” he said.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said that unemployment fraud is very common during the COVID-19 crisis. “I won’t lie to you. It’s an issue, and it really makes me angry that these thieves are out there.”

McCamley said that since the pandemic started, New Mexico has recovered more than $17 million that was given to criminals. For instance, between May and June, the state found more than 480 people illegally filed for unemployment in jail.

“But the pressure on our agency is to get money out the door to help people during these really hard times. There’s also pressure to stop this theft. So, we have to kind of balance those things moving forward,” McCamley said.

KRQE News 13 asked the state if anyone was looking into Lawton’s case. Then, about an hour before this story aired, Lawton called with an update. He said he was notified the account was frozen and was being investigated. One day later, he said he was informed the state confirmed the claim was fraudulent and closed the case.

Workforce Solutions said, as of Thursday, it had about 6,500 accounts locked down to be vetted further. Anyone who needs to report a fraudulent claim can email or call the fraud line at 505243-7283.