Hundreds of Mystery Unemployment Letters Delivered to Californians; Fraud Suspected

Families statewide are finding shock at the mailbox, getting dozens of envelopes from the state unemployment office -- addressed to people who don't live there.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Many unemployed Californians are desperate to hear something -- anything -- from the state unemployment office.

But others are being flooded with dozens -- even hundreds -- of unexpected letters from the Employment Development Department, or EDD.

More concerning, the situation doesn't appear to be just a few mishandled letters. Dozens of people across the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, are telling NBC Responds about the mystery letters.

NBC Bay Area spoke to several recipients statewide, who all shared a common story: their mailboxes overflowing with letters from EDD, addresssed to someone else.

Carlos Gomez in California City may have the biggest stack of all.

"If I had to guess, probably 200 altogether," he told us.

Pictured: a stack of letters from EDD received at the home of Carlos Gomez, all addressed to other people. Photograph courtesy the office of Assembly Member Tom Lackey

Gomez told us no one in his household has filed for unemployment.

"We're self-employed," he said.

Everyone we talked to said they got envelopes for multiple people they didn't know. Marco Vaschetto, who lives in Oakland, said there's no way his stack of letters was intended for previous tenants of his home.

"We bought the house when it was built," Vaschetto said. "Nobody else lived here before us."

All the letters are labeled "time sensitive" or "urgent".

Some apparently contain debit cards loaded with unemployment benefits.

Paloma Dooley told us she could feel the plastic cards inside some of the envelopes.

“I’m worried for the people who are supposed to be getting these," she said, holding up an envelope. "Some of them obviously have -- this is the ‘urgent, open immediately’ thing that has the debit card in it.”

There are likely hundreds of dollars -- or more -- on each one.

We researched the names on envelopes provided by the recipients. Some check out -- they appear real. Others are unclear.

What's happening here?

“It might be fraud," Vaschetto said. "We don’t know.”

We found a loose, yet somewhat common thread. Several people who got letters had recently advertised their homes for rent or for sale.

Scammers are known to use unattended mailboxes for fraud. Years ago, they bilked the IRS with the tactic and sent $46 million in bogus tax refunds to a single address in Georgia.

Are these stacks of letters evidence that crooks are pulling the same scam with the EDD?

The agency told us its "investigation team is aware that people are receiving multiple pieces of EDD mail while asserting they have not filed an unemployment claim."

We have many questions about whether EDD has safeguards to prevent so many envelopes from arriving at one address. EDD declined our request for an interview. Via email, it said it's “...developing methods to stop and prevent such claims from being paid, and prosecuting the unscrupulous offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”

The return address on some letters is a Tennessee P.O. box for Bank of America, which manages the state's unemployment debit cards.

We asked if Bank of America screens to prevent stacks of letters at one address, but a spokesperson declined to comment.

Gomez says he asked EDD with the 200 letters he received.

"A ‘specialist’ was supposed to get back to me within five days," he said. "They never got back to me.”

Gomez ended up taking his letters to his representative in the California State Assembly, Tom Lackey.

“It was probably like the hot potato nobody wanted to embrace," Lackey told NBC Bay Area.

Assembly Member Lackey took Gomez's letters to EDD. He and other lawmakers are calling for an emergency audit -- and perhaps a special session of the state legislature.

"To think that these are isolated instances is laughable,” Lackey said. "It's certainly time to [call a special session], because these other options are failing, and the people deserve better."

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he deployed five new people to EDD. We asked the governor's office to clarify their roles; we did not receive a response.

Whatever is happening with EDD, the people who are caught in the middle are wondering what's next, and when the unwanted deliveries will end.

“More will come," Vaschetto said. "We’re just curious what to do.”

We asked the EDD. It said there are two steps to turn in a stack of letters and debit cards. First, call the agency fraud line at 1-800-229-6297. Then, mail the letters to EDD:

California Employment Development Department
Attn: Fraud Investigations
P.O. Box 826880 MIC 43
Sacramento, CA 94280-0225

You can also fill out a fraud report at the EDD website.

Contact Us