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Washington state paid out “hundreds of millions” to fraudsters filing jobless claims

A week after Washington state announced plans to temporarily halt the payment of unemployment checks due to a spike in suspicious claims, the extent of the fraud scheme is coming into focus.

Fraudsters have used the stolen personal information of tens of thousands of Washingtonians to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment checks, the head of Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD) told AP Thursday.

ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine said she couldn’t discuss the specifics of the ongoing investigation, but noted that the state has “prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent claims being filed.”

The ESD will continue to delay payments as it seeks to verify claims, she said. Applicants can expect an additional two days for direct deposit payments, which previously reach their bank accounts in one to two days.

The U.S. Secret Service identified Washington state as a top target of a Nigerian fraud operation seeking to cash in on the state’s unemployment benefits. LeVine told AP that Washington is an attractive target due to the fact that the state’s weekly maximum benefit is the second highest in the U.S., combined with the additional $600 per week the federal government has been pitching in.

The criminals are using personal identities stolen from past data breaches, perhaps including the massive Equifax hack, to file unemployment claims and route those benefits to their own bank accounts, LeVine said.

If you suspect your personal information has been used to file a fraudulent claim, report it immediately on the ESD website.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us for advice on L&I, workers’ compensation and other employment law questions.

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