Washington officials said Thursday they believe they have recovered about half of the hundreds of millions in unemployment benefits paid to criminals who used stolen identities to file claims during the coronavirus pandemic.
Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said officials are still working to determine the final amount paid out fraudulently, but they believe it was between $550 million and $650 million. To date, the state has recovered $333 million, she said.
A West African fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach, is believed to be behind the fraud, which has targeted nearly a dozen states, according to California cybersecurity firm Agari.
LeVine said that of claims that have been held up because of identity concerns, the claims of more than 51,000 people were resolved Wednesday night, and that $77 million in funds will be released to 32,000 people Thursday. The remainder have separate questions about their applications that require additional resolution, she said.
An additional 50,000 claims will take more time to resolve because LeVine said she believed about half of them to be fraudulent.
“The fact that innocent people are caught in a fraud net — which means their payments have been stopped or delayed — is the most infuriating and disheartening part of this effort,” she said.
Spam emails from “Nigerian princes” have flooded the inboxes of millions of Americans throughout the years, offering large sums of cash in exchange for clicking a link and providing some personal information.
The wallets of these notorious scam artists have gotten heavier on Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s watch thanks to his administration sending “hundreds of millions of dollars” in unemployment benefits to an “international fraud scheme…orchestrated from Nigeria” that would otherwise have gone to workers facing job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Inslee has been dishing out fraudulent unemployment benefits to organized criminals, jobless Washingtonians are still waiting to receive their assistance. The saga has “raised questions about what” the state’s Employment Security Department “could have done to detect and prevent the fraudulent activity.”
Not only has Inslee’s glaring lack of oversight left tens of thousands of Washingtonians vulnerable to identify theft, the rampant fraud means that “additional delays in benefit payments to legitimate claimants are likely” according to Inslee administration officials.
“As working families waited for help, Jay Inslee and his administration were clueless as the state sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Nigerian criminals instead of Washingtonians in need,” said RGA Communications Director Amelia Chassé Alcivar. “Now Governor Inslee’s negligence is causing even further delays for already-struggling unemployed workers while he continues to shift the blame. It’s time to take responsibility, governor.”