A nationwide crackdown is coming for people fraudulently drawing unemployment payments — those who were never eligible and workers who keep getting checks after they return to work — a $17 billion benefits swindle last year alone, say federal officials.

With the poor economy lingering and the jobless rate remaining high, Rhode Island and other states are stepping up efforts to stop the fraud and improper payments.

As much as 30 percent of the wrong payments in 2010 went to people who had returned to the workforce but continued to claim benefits, according to Dale Ziegler, deputy administrator for the Office of Unemployment Insurance at the U.S. Department of Labor. Those payments came even after a 2009 executive order by President Obama seeking new policies to cut payment errors, waste, fraud and abuse.

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