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When you're out of work through no fault of your own, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits through your state's unemployment insurance office. To do this, you must provide the office representatives with the information they need to determine your eligibility, and that information must be truthful and reported as requested. If you don't give the office accurate information, the office representatives may accuse you of willful misrepresentation in your claim.
Make Your Case
Unemployment offices generally consider misrepresentation to be willful dishonesty regarding your claim, including purposely not reporting information. In certain cases, misrepresentations are accidental. For example, you might have been confused about what the unemployment office considered income when you filed. In these instances, you may be able to show the mistake wasn't on purpose. If you can do this, the unemployment office may consider the case closed. Gather as much data as you can that supports accurate figures. Make an appointment with a representative from the unemployment office and bring the data to her in good faith. Explain why the misrepresentation wasn't intentional, and ask the representative to help you amend your claim. Go in with a specific dollar amount you were overpaid and ask the representative how you would go about voluntarily paying back the overpayment.
Hire an Attorney
If the misrepresentation was intentional, or if the unemployment representative doesn't buy your argument, hire a good attorney. The unemployment office usually won't hesitate to prosecute you for the misrepresentation if you can't show the misrepresentation wasn't willful. An attorney can help you defend yourself so that any fines or jail time is minimized. The attorney also can help you arrange payments to the the unemployment office so you can return the money that was overpaid to you.
Look at Your Budget
States usually deny you unemployment benefits for up to a year if you commit misrepresentation. Thus, if the representatives from the unemployment office believe you're guilty, your benefits may stop, at least temporarily, until you resolve the problem. Look at your budget and figure out how to meet living expenses without your unemployment benefits. Options include, but aren't limited to, sale of assets; small loans from friends, family or financial institutions; use of available credit; and cashing in any stocks or bonds you may have.
File an Appeal
All decisions regarding benefits involve the right to an appeal. If you're accused of misrepresentation, consult with your attorney and appeal the decision with the unemployment office. The appeal board may disagree with the original finding and drop the case. If board members agree with the original decision, however, at the very least, they require you to pay what was overpaid, but you may be able to convince them legal action isn't necessary.
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Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.