Washington finds it paid out hundreds of millions in fraudulent unemployment benefits

Marco Green
May 22, 2020

The fraudsters submitted bogus unemployment claims under the names of tens of thousands of people whose personal information had been stolen, said Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the state's Employment Security Department.

The new figures could push the state's total number of initial claims to almost 1.2 million - but they will also add to concerns that the state's unemployment system has been hit by identity thieves looking to siphon off some of the extra jobless benefits offered under the federal government's pandemic-relief measures.

The official said law enforcement agents are working on recovering as much money as possible and the department has taken steps to prevent new fraudulent unemployment claims from being filed or paid. She was unable to give any specific numbers, as this is an active case.

Last week, several media outlets reported on a Secret Service alert about a Nigerian fraud ring targeting Washington as part of an attempt to commit large-scale fraud against a state unemployment program, The Associated Press reports.

Washington has already prevented fraudsters from stealing hundreds of millions of additional dollars with safeguards such as holding up payments to validate claims, LeVine said.

And now, the Washington residents who are out of work and filing legitimate unemployment claims will have to wait a bit longer to see those benefits.

It had earlier been reported that the attackers are suspected to have used information about U.S. citizens such as social security numbers to file for unemployment claims on behalf of people who have not been laid off.

"This makes me the most angry and the most upset - that we need to delay payments to Washingtonians who need these benefits", LeVine said.

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