State pauses unemployment payments to deal with fraudsters

State pauses unemployment payments to deal with fraudsters
National unemployment number rise to over 36 million

OLYPMIA, Wash. — The Washington Employment Security Department will pause unemployment payments this week to verify them, in an attempt to stop fraudsters who are abusing the system.

“We'll be able to hold those payments for an additional one or two days so we can validate claims as authentic,” ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine said.

Last month, thieves stole $1.6 million in unemployment benefits, up from about $40,000 in March. The ESD said $1.6 million is less than a tenth of a percent of the total benefits paid that month, but, a spokesperson added, “We take all fraud seriously and are doing everything we can to prevent it.”

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One unemployed worker, Daniella Nichols, is concerned about her own account being targeted.

“The last three weeks recently, my claims started saying that they're paying me,” she said. “But I have not received a check in the mail, a debit card in the mail, nor has anything been deposited into my bank account.”

Nichols, a mother of four, was laid off from her job at a Marysville car dealership at the end of March. She said she’s doing everything she can to make ends meet until she gets paid.

“I’ve had to sell things from my home, including my son's car, to try to make my bills paid,” she said.

Nichols has tried to get through on the phones to see if this was an error, but reaching an ESD worker has been tough, she said, adding: “The longest I’ve had to be on hold for was two hours."

This week, it will likely get even tougher: the ESD is increasing outbound calls to clear cases in adjudication, often displayed as “pending,” and it’s limiting inbound calls, like Nichols’s.

She said her account on the ESD website shows a debit card number that is not hers.

“If they were starting to pay me, how come I didn’t receive the approval letter in the mail?” she asked.

Levine said the fraud they’re seeing is not a data breach or unemployment fraud, wherein people lie on their claims, but imposter fraud, in which someone uses another person’s information to file and reroute their payments.

More than 1 million people in Washington have filed for unemployment benefits since the first week of March.

About 50,000 of them are still waiting for their cases to be reviewed by the state.

Click here for a breakdown of all the unemployment numbers.