Employment Security Commissioner addresses how department is working to combat ‘imposter fraud’ for benefits

Commissioner Suzi LeVine

Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said Thursday that her department is taking additional steps to combat the rising number of fraudulent applications for unemployment benefits due to identity theft.

“Since the start of May – and particularly in the past week – the Employment Security Department has seen a significant rise in reports of imposter fraud,” LeVine said in a statement. “This is where bad actors have stolen Washingtonians’ personal information from sources outside of the agency and are using it to apply for unemployment benefits.”

LeVine stressed that the Employment Security Department “has not had a breach of our system and no data has been taken from our agency.”

Instead, victims’ personal information has been stolen from some other source, she said, using as an example a massive external data breach like the one occurring at Equifax. Criminals use that information to apply for benefits and attempt to route those payments to their own bank accounts.

“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.

“Our agency has many controls and gates in place to prevent, identify and block fraud, and while we have seen a rise in reports of imposter fraud recently, this is by no means new or unique,” she said. States across the country are facing the same situation as criminals take advantage of the additional benefits available due to the COVID-19 crisis, she added.

LeVine said the agency is taking the additional steps to combat this fraud, including the following:

  • Dramatically increasing the number of agents on the fraud hotline; 100 more of whom just started Wednesday.
  • Hiring more fraud investigators.
  • Cross matching data with other state agencies and across the country to detect fraud activity.
  • Working with the U.S. Department of Labor to detect and prevent fraud.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are also holding payments for an additional one to two days this week so we can validate claims as authentic. We apologize for the hardship this may cause for valid claimants,” she 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.

Anyone who believes they are a victim of imposter fraud should visit  esd.wa.gov/fraud and report it immediately using the instructions on that page.

She also offered the following additional steps to take and resources to learn more if you believe your identity has been stolen:

Finally, here are the three most important things for people to know about unemployment imposter fraud:

  1. If someone is a victim of fraud, they will not have to repay the money.
  2. If someone is a victim of fraud and then needs to apply for benefits, they will still be able to do so.
  3. The department will only be contacting people from the esd.wa.gov domain and only asking people to provide information on the website esd.wa.gov. “We have seen other fraudsters offering to help individuals and businesses by sending them to phony web pages asking for their employees’ information,” she said.

“This is such a difficult and unprecedented time, and unfortunately criminals use situations like these to try and gain advantage,” LaVine 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.”

  1. Haven’t received benefits for last 2 weeks even though it’s only for 1 day each week. I’ve been working through this virus and just need to bring in what I can to support my family. My hours have only shortened 8 hours less then normal but I should still get something. Other people u work with get there’s. Why not me.

    1. I’ve been waiting for a decision on
      an extension “re-determination” of PEUI benefits for seven weeks now. My regular unemployment claim ran out in January. Ive been a food server for 36 years. And with the COVID-19 pandemic. My line of work is really non existent. It’s very frustrating because I was already approved for my original UI Claim. But now have to wait, because they need to re-evaluate my separation. My daughter who didn’t have enough hours to get UI benefits. Filed under PUA benefits. Got her money within a week. I haven’t been able to pay my rent. And my 81 year old mother in law has carried the load of paying the bills etc,. .with her social security check. It’s been 7 weeks since I filed. I’ve sent messages through my SAW account. And have gotten no response. I’ve tried calling unemployment and it is impossible to get through. It really upsets me that people are getting benefits that shouldn’t be so quickly. While people like me have been waiting nearly two months. And have heard absolutely nothing from the Unemployment department.

  2. Have not received unemployment for over 6 weeks even though I was put on standby due state mandate due to covid 19! Can’t get answers or assistance in any way! Financially devastated! They want us to be patient, but doesn’t seem to care enough to give assistance in any way! Beyond frustrated!

  3. This whole situation with the Unemployment Department have been stressful, demoralizing and exhausting. I been waiting six weeks to get approved for benefits because my retirement of ssa annuity was flagged. After they take out for overpayment, health insurance and taxes my retirement is only $ 300 per month. How can I pay rent/mortgage, car note, cellphone bills,eat and other bills off of 300 a month. Where’s my unemployment? I been working consistently for 13 years, full time no breaks in service. Again where is my unemployment benefits????

  4. I apply for unemployment benefit after my employer Boeing shut down for two weeks in March because of coronaviuse in Puget Sound area. It is NOW 2 1/2 months later I have not receive any of my unemployment. I receive Key Bank card from unemployment office with no fund available. Manage my active claim status pending with NO benefit paid. How in the world can thieves steal $1.6 million in unemployment when people like me is doing everything right but yet can’t seem to get any of my benefits. This had been stressful and hard on me and my family. Mortgage, car payment, car insurance, utility all due. I have been waiting for a decision on pending status sent March. I’ve call, left message still no respond.

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