State says it has ‘zeroed in’ on stopping fraudulent unemployment claims

VIDEO: State says it has ‘zeroed in’ on stopping fraudulent unemployment claims

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the state has “zeroed in” on stopping the increase in fraudulent claims seen in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, the King County Sheriff’s Office said it had nearly 1,700 victims of unemployment fraud file police reports online in a five-day period. Victims don’t know they’ve been targeted until they get a letter in the mail.

>> Related: State pauses unemployment payments to deal with fraudsters

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Many of the letters mention the Self-Employment Assistance Program and suggest those who are out of work could become entrepreneurs.

It is part of the impostor fraud hitting unemployment systems from Washington to Massachusetts to Florida.

The Secret Service is investigating a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme led by an organization with ties to Nigeria targeting the unemployment security system.

The scammers are hitting at the same time when states are rushing unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state said in April that thieves stole $1.6 million in unemployment benefits, up from about $40,000 in March.

“We are working closely with federal law enforcement to stop fraudulent activity, to investigate these crimes and get as much of the stolen money as we can returned to us,” LeVine said in a news release Thursday.

The work to address unemployment fraud comes as the number of claims for benefits in Washington continues to rise.

ESD officials said there were 138,733 initial regular unemployment claims from May 10-16 – an increase of 29,308 from the previous week. There 1,670,580 total claims for all unemployment benefits in that time.

An additional $1.01 billion in benefits was paid out during that time – up almost $256 million from the previous week. ESD officials said a total of $3.8 billion in benefits have been paid out to Washington residents since early March when COVID-19 job losses began.

Since early March, officials said a total of 1,937,576 initial claims have been made and a total of 1,106,684 distinct individuals have filed for benefits.

Click here to report unemployment fraud.