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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 23206
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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I live in Wisconsin. I have been receiving unemployment since

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I live in Wisconsin. I have been receiving unemployment since some time in 2010 when I lost my job of 10 years. Since it's hard to get a job or even an interview, I decided to do free-lance online work for income. I am considered an independent contractor for a few places. Each one pays it's people once a month for any earnings/commissions earned the prior month. Like I said, I am NOT an employee of them.

I called unemployment and asked them how to report those wages since their handbook says to report all income when it's earned. I explained I earn ALL MONTH but only get paid once a month. They said no problem, just report once I get paid, and report it as that week's income. So even if I made $3000, report it as income for the previous week. There is no way to report it otherwise. Or so they said!

So here's the problem ... just today I talked to someone at the unemployment office for a question. This person happened to notice that I was reporting my income wrong and she is referring my account to the legal team! I am scared sick. She said I was supposed to report the income, divided by 4, for each week. I was to have estimated what I was going to make, not wait for the check to come and report it as a lump sum for the week. This caused them to overpay me, for obvious reason. And for a couple years. She said she has no record of someone telling me the wrong info, so I can't prove anything.

I know this isn't my fault, I was honest and reported every penny made. The problem is now it goes to the legal team. If I have to repay money, that's fine with me. My concern is this: can I go to jail? I have tons of medical problems and going to jail would literally kill me. I'm so scared. It's the weekend, so no lawyers are around to ask. Unemployment fraud is a crime, but I didn't commit fraud. I was mistaken in how to report earnings. I am honest!

Hi Jacustomer,

If you reported every penny that you ever made, and you can document that, the fact that you misunderstood or were misdirected about how to declare your income is arguably just a mistake rather than a deliberate fraud.

If you are contacted by Unemployment you will have the right to a hearing. Your position will be that you were told how to report it incorrectly, but you at all times reported your actual income accurately. You can arrange a payment plan with them for any overpayment they made.

You should have a lawyer with you at the hearing to protect your rights, but this does not look to me like you deliberately intended to defraud unemployment, based on the facts you've presented me with. I can't promise you that they won't turn the file over to the prosecutor's office for evaluation, but it looks unlikely to me that you'll have to worry about an arrest.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Is it a problem that I can't prove I was told the wrong info on how to file income?


You talk to one of maybe hundreds of representatives at the unemployment call center, and they don't record calls and rarely even document conversations. The sad part is, I asked a second time and was told the same thing! It never occurred to me to document this because I was new to unemployment concepts and I trusted them.


I am sure I will have to pay back thousands based on the "divide by four" concept. If only they had those rules in writing for us.


So, once again, do you think it will be a problem that I can't prove a conversation I had? I have a squeaky clean record in life, hope that helps.

Hi Monica,

I don't think you will have to prove the conversation. What is critical is you reported all of your income accurately. That you can document. In most cases of criminal fraud it is the failure to report actual income.

I realize you're scared and you shouldn't go this alone. But you have a very reasonable mistake defense here and the fact that you've reported all your income speaks volumes on your behalf.
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