5/14/2020

OLYMPIA – Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine, released this statement regarding the rise in unemployment imposter fraud attempts:

“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. 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. To be clear – Employment Security has not had a breach of our system and no data has been taken from our agency.

“What we are seeing is that a victims’ personal information has been stolen from some other source, for example in one of the massive external data breaches like the Equifax breach, and is then used by criminals 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.

“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. States across the country are facing the same situation as criminals take advantage of this crisis and the additional benefits available right now.

“Some additional steps we’re taking as we see this increase in imposter fraud include:

  • Dramatically increasing the number of agents on the fraud hotline; 100 more of whom just started yesterday.
  • 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 1-2 days this week so we can validate claims as authentic. We apologize for the hardship this may cause for valid claimants.

“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.

“If you believe you are a victim of imposter fraud, please go to esd.wa.gov/fraud and report it immediately using the instructions on that page.

“Additional steps to take and resources to learn more if you believe your identity has been stolen:

  1. Go to the FTC identity theft website, identitytheft.gov. This resource has the most current, detailed step by step process for reporting and protecting people from further victimization.
  2. Request your free credit reports via annualcreditreport.com and review them for other fraudulent activities.
  3. Find additional tips from the Washington State Attorney General at atg.wa.gov/recovering-identity-theft-or-fraud.

“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. We will only be reaching out to people from the esd.wa.gov domain and only asking people to provide information on our 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.

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

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