‘Innocent people’ caught in WA unemployment anti-fraud net


Washington officials say they've recovered about $333 million in stolen benefits so far

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Washington is still dealing with thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims and trying to recover hundreds of millions of stolen dollars.

The Washington Employment Security Department recently added additional screening measures to weed out fraudulent claims from legitimate claims.

Many people can’t move forward in the process to get benefits until they upload a photo of their ID to verify their identity.

By Wednesday, approximately 190,000 people were waiting to be processed through the identity theft system. The employment department cleared 51,000 people later that night and hopes to clear 50,000 more in the next week.

However, officials can’t say exactly when they expect to finish sifting through all the claims. They estimate at least 25,000 of the claims still sitting in the queue are fraudulent. Criminals who are now trying to use fake IDs to cheat the system are slowing the system down even further.

“The criminals that have taken advantage of this crisis have also complicated and slowed down efforts to get payments to folks who have been waiting the longest, both here and across the country,” said Washington Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “The fact that innocent people are caught in the fraud net, which means their payments have been stopped or delayed, is the most infuriating and disheartening part of this effort. We know they are frustrated, angry and scared.”

Report unemployment benefits fraud

LeVine said anywhere between $550 to $650 million was stolen as a result of the global unemployment fraud ring. Washington has since recovered about $333 million.

“Dealing with the incredible and sophisticated criminal fraud attack has consumed a fair amount of our agency’s energy the past few weeks and other states are in the same boat as us,” LeVine said.

The number of initial unemployment claims in Washington decreased by 36% last week. The employment department said this is likely due to the fraud prevention measures now in place as well as businesses re-hiring employees as counties start to reopen.

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Those who are still waiting for unemployment benefits in Washington state should continue filing weekly claims. Officials say if you are a victim of fraud and you get an overpayment notice from the employment department, you can ignore it — you do not have to pay back money claimed fraudulently in your name.

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