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Notices of unemployment claims are surprising some still working

Employment Security Department letter advising of a claim in an employee's name (May 11, 2020). Source: My Ferndale News

FERNDALE, Wash. — Letters from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) have been the first clue for many people that unemployment benefits claim had been submitted in their name while they are currently employed.

Officials with the ESD report a total of 1,937,576 initial claims have been filed during the pandemic. But, ESD also reports an increase in fraudulent “imposter” claims, especially since the beginning of May.

“Imposter fraud” claims occur when an someone fraudulently applies for unemployment benefits under another person’s identity. This is being done using personal information that may have been stolen, may be publicly available as in the case of public employees or provided to the scammers by employers tricked into believing they were responding to a legitimate request (referred to as “spear phishing”).

It has been reported that the state has paid out hundreds of millions in response to tens of thousands imposter fraud claims having been filed.

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At a May 14th press conference, LeVine pointed out the following:

  • you are not responsible for the money paid in your name on fraudulent claims
  • your access to benefits is unaffected even if your identity was used in an impostor fraud effort

LeVine noted during the press conference that an initial “waiting week” has been waived nationwide so benefits can begin quickly during the COVID-19 crisis. But this has made employment security departments across the nation more vulnerable since the employee and employer are notified of claims during that week, which is an opportunity to be alerted of fraudulent and imposter claims before sending benefits.

This is happening because bad actors have acquired people’s personal information through other data breaches outside of the agency. Criminals then use this information to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits in someone else’s name. There has been no data breach from ESD’s system.

Imposter fraud is a sweeping issue affecting unemployment systems in states across the country. We are working with law enforcement, other states, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to detect and prevent fraud.

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Update on imposter fraud from Commissioner Suzi LeVine (May 18, 2020)

ESD reports they have taken steps to address the increase in fraudulent activity, including:

  • Holding payments for 1-2 days to validate all claims as authentic
  • Hiring more fraud investigators and staff to answer questions on the fraud hotline
  • Making changes to our system that will require some customers to verify or provide certain information

ESD recommends taking the following steps if you believe your identity was used to file an imposter fraud claim:

Imposter fraud is but 1 of several COVID-19-related scams that the Washington State Attorney General’s office reports they are investigating.

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