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Washington holding unemployment payments 1-2 days after fraud attempts

Nearly all retail stores and restaurants in the area are currently closed or operating under reduced levels of service due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and state-wide stay-at-home orders, which has led to thousands of workers losing their jobs or being furloughed. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Washington Employment Security Department has seen an increase in fraud attempts in which “bad actors” have stolen personal information and used it to apply for unemployment benefits.

“Since the start of May – and particularly in the past week – the Employment Security Department has seen a significant rise in reports of impostor fraud,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

The personal information of Washingtonians is being stolen from sources outside the agency, LeVine said, and being used to then apply for benefits.

“To be clear – Employment Security has not had a breach of our system and no data has been taken from our agency,” LeVine added.

LeVine assured in a statement that the agency has controls in place to prevent, identify, and block fraud. This, unfortunately, is not a new event, though there has been a rise in reports of imposter fraud.

“Many Washingtonians did not know their information had been stolen in the past, and this situation has only illuminated that fact as fraudsters attempt to get unemployment benefits in Washingtonians’ names,” LeVine said.

Imposter fraud is not only hitting Washington state, as reports are surfacing across the country of similar situations. Criminals are taking advantage of the crisis and the additional benefits being offered right now, LeVine said.

The ESD announced it will be increasing the number of agents on the fraud hotline, hiring more fraud investigators, cross matching data with other state agencies and across the country to detect fraud activity, and working with the U.S. Department of Labor to both detect and prevent fraud cases.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are also holding payments for an additional 1-2 days this week so we can validate claims as authentic. We apologize for the hardship this may cause for valid claimants,” LeVine said.

“We are constantly evaluating our processes and systems to ensure we can pay benefits as quickly as possible to those who are qualified while not creating more opportunity for imposter fraud,” she added.

Washington unemployment filings dip, but still at record levels

If you believe you have been a victim of imposter fraud, visit this website and report it immediately.

The Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website has a current, detailed, step-by-step process for reporting and protecting people from further victimization, and the Washington State Attorney General has tips for recovering from identity theft or fraud here.

If someone is a victim of unemployment imposter fraud, they will not have to replay the money, and they will still be able to apply for benefits if they need to do so. The ESD will only contact you from the esd.wa.gov domain, and only ask people to provide information on its website at esd.wa.gov.

“This is such a difficult and unprecedented time, and unfortunately criminals use situations like these to try and gain advantage,” LeVine said. “While our agency is working around the clock to quickly get benefits out to Washingtonians who need them, we also are maintaining vigilance and taking action to combat fraudulent activities so we may pay out legitimate claims and block those who seek to do harm.”

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