State employment agency processed fake claims

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — A news station in Washington state has obtained records that show fraudulent unemployment claims were filed last year in the stolen identities of 59 state Employment Security Department employees.

The department spotted fraud after it had paid the claim to the fraudster’s bank account in 10 of those cases, KING-TV reported.

KING-TV submitted a public records request seven months ago for the documents, which do not show how much money was paid out.

The department disabled security and verification processes to speed up payments to tens of thousands of Washington workers who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

However, the process left the agency vulnerable to fraud.

Chris Monroe, an unemployed professional drummer in Seattle who had been trying to obtain his unemployment benefits, discovered in June that he had a fraudulent claim in his name early last year.

The department has yet to clear his account so he can file his claim.

“What can I say? It’s extremely frustrating, and yes it makes me angry,” he said. “I’ve been a legit employee and paid into the system.”

The state Employment Security Department said it could not comment on Monroe’s case because of federal privacy laws.

Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine has previously attributed fraud to the pandemic, a desire to process claims quickly and a small workforce.

The department has reported about 120,000 fraudulent claims were filed in Washington state with more than $600 million in payouts.

More than half of the money has been recovered.

Anne Paxton, the policy director for the Unemployment Law Project, said the department has been relying too much on technology to process claims and not enough on people.

She suspects an automated computer system processed fraudulent payments in the stolen names of employees that live employees would have caught.

The Unemployment Law Project provides low cost or free representation to people who have been denied unemployment benefits.

“The computer is your friend up until it’s not your friend,” Paxton said. “We’re hoping that they’ll reorient their emphasis away from the IT system.”

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