Unemployment benefits fraud
Fake websites targeting SecureAccess Washington (SAW) users
Nov. 16, 2023
Customers who used a search engine to access SecureAccess Washington (SAW) may have fallen victim to a phishing scam. The scam uses sponsored ads that link to different spoofed, or fake, SAW websites that can compromise their personal information.
Here’s an example of what the fake websites could look like.
For updated information about this issue, read our alert.
Washington state takes unemployment insurance fraud very seriously. If you have reason to believe someone has applied for unemployment benefits using your information or used a scam to obtain your private information, please report that to us using the information below.
To report employer tax fraud (employers who do not register with the state and don't pay their fair share of taxes), go to the Employer tax fraud page.
Report imposter fraud
Alert us to an imposter claiming benefits under your name. If your employer already informed us about the fraudulent claim in your name, you don't need to report it again. Follow the suggestions under What should I do if I'm a victim of identity theft?
Report fraud or misconduct
Submit a report if you know someone is claiming unemployment benefits and shouldn’t be, or if an ESD employee is engaging is misconduct. You’ll be asked to report the person’s name and any other information that will help us identify them and the reason you believe they’re involved in committing fraud or misconduct.
Information you will need to provide when reporting benefit fraud using our secure form:
- Your full name
- Your Social Security number
- Your address
- Your date of birth
- Brief description of how you found out an imposter-fraud claim was filed using your information
- Please let us know: If an imposter-fraud claim was filed using your information, do you give us permission to deny and cancel it?
Steps you can take if you believe you are a victim of fraud:
- Go to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identity theft website: identitytheft.gov for great resources on reporting.
- Request your free credit reports via annualcreditreport.com and review them for other fraudulent activities.
- Go to atg.wa.gov/recovering-identity-theft-or-fraud for more tips from the Washington State Attorney General.
- Learn more about identifying scams on the Identifying unemployment scams web page.
You can also report fraud by phone to the Office of Special Investigations
We are receiving an extremely high number of calls. The fastest way to report fraud is to use the secure fraud reporting form.
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Employers can report fraud on behalf of their employees:
- Download the Benefit Fraud Employer Reporting Template
- Enter the requested information for the affected employees
- Complete the form and upload the template on our Employer Fraud Reporting Page.
What to expect after you have reported fraud
We will help you through this difficult time.
You will receive:
- An automatic reply when you submit the Fraud reporting form.
- An email from us with details about what to do next if you cannot access your account or apply for benefits.
You do not owe us any money as a result of the fraudulent claim
You might have received a letter from us stating that you must repay benefits (called an overpayment) that we paid on the fraudulent claim in your name. You can ignore that letter! Our computer system automatically generates the letter when we deny an unemployment application. We’re sorry for the anxiety it may have caused.
Questions and answers
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personally identifiable information, such as Social Security or driver's license numbers. Criminals use this information to impersonate someone else, usually for financial gain.
What is unemployment imposter fraud?
When someone illegally files an unemployment claim using another person’s personal and employment information.
How do I know if I’m a victim of fraud?
Many people find out when they receive a letter they were not expecting from the Employment Security Department. Many also find out when Employment Security notifies an employer that a current employee has applied for unemployment benefits. The employer then notifies the employee.
Some may learn they’re a victim of fraud when they get a 1099-G tax form for benefits they didn’t receive in 2021. Learn more about tax info for fraud victims.
What do I do if I got a 1099-G tax form for unemployment benefits that I never received?
If you get a 1099-G that includes unemployment benefits you never received, you may be a victim of fraud. Learn more about tax info for fraud victims.
What should I do if I suspect I’m a victim of unemployment imposter fraud?
If you have reason to believe someone has applied for unemployment benefits using your information, report it immediately to the Employment Security Department. Select the Fraud reporting form button above to securely send us your information.
After reporting the fraud to ESD, follow the instructions under What should I do if I’m a victim of identity theft? below.
What should employers do for their employees who experience imposter fraud?
- Immediately notify their employees about the fraudulent claim. Then either:
- Instruct employees to securely report the fraud to the Employment Security Department using the Fraud reporting form linked above.
- Or securely report fraud on behalf of their employees by using the Benefit Fraud Employer Reporting Template linked above. The Benefit Fraud Employer Reporting Template may be useful for providing information about multiple employees and to promptly stop payments on the claims.
- Instruct employees to follow directions below under What should I do if I’m a victim of identity theft?
- Go to the Attorney General’s Recovering from identity theft or fraud web page and follow the instructions.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at identitytheft.gov or call 877-ID-THEFT. In addition, the FTC recommends that you:
- File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports periodically to ensure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- Request your free credit reports via annualcreditreport.com and review them for other fraudulent activities.
If someone steals my identity and the Employment Security Department pays benefits to the fraudster, am I responsible for paying back the money?
No. You will not need to pay back the money. Your employer won’t have to repay it either.
If someone steals my identity and uses my information to apply for unemployment benefits, can I still apply for benefits if I need to?
Yes. We’ll be able to distinguish your legitimate claim from a fraudulent one.
I haven’t received any payments since I applied. How long will it take to resolve my claim?
For those who have not yet received any payments, we are continuing to work through these claims as quickly as we can. We apologize deeply for the frustration and anxiety these delays may have caused. Getting payments to all eligible Washingtonians is our top priority.
How does the Employment Security Department detect fraud?
We have four main ways of detecting fraud:
- Our system can spot and flag irregularities.
- We cross match our data with multiple other sources, including a new national fraud detection system.
- The victim reports fraud.
- The victim’s employer reports it.
What is ESD doing to prevent unemployment imposter fraud?
- Is working with other states and the federal government to cross match data to detect fraud.
- Has hired additional fraud investigators and continues to use standard and creative information security practices.
- Has delayed all payments to all claimants by two business days to allow time to root out fraudulent claims.
I heard that ESD is holding payments because of fraud. When can I expect my money?
There has been a big increase in imposter fraud. One of the ways we are fighting fraud is to hold UI benefit payments while we do additional reviews for potentially fraudulent claims. This is what you can expect:
- Weekly claims are normally processed for payment the night you submit your weekly claim.
- All weekly claims will be held for two calendar days while they are reviewed. They will show as “processing” in your eServices account.
- Once the payment is fully processed after the two-day hold, it will show as “paid” in eServices.
- IMPORTANT: Once the status in eServices shows as “paid,” it will take two to three business days for the money to reach your direct deposit or debit card account.
Do fraudulent claims increase the experience rating for businesses and make unemployment taxes go up?
No and perhaps. Unemployment taxes have two parts: One is the experience rated tax employers pay based on how many of their former employees have received unemployment benefits. The other tax is a pool all employers pay into to cover other costs of benefits and those instances when no specific employer pays for benefits. That’s called the socialized portion.
When employees are victims of fraud, their employers will not see an increase in their experience rating. However, we don’t know yet if the socialized portion of unemployment taxes will go up as a result of fraud and other factors. It could.
How many cases of fraud are you currently seeing and how much money do these claims represent?
Like many states throughout the nation, we experienced an imposter fraud attack early in the pandemic. These criminals used personal information, stolen outside of ESD’s system, to fraudulently apply for benefits using other people’s identities. We took a number of measures to stop and prevent further imposter fraud, which were successful. This was highlighted in a recent audit by the State Auditor’s Office, which stated, “ESD did not make significant payments to fraudsters after [the May 2020 attack] despite high demand for unemployment assistance throughout 2020.”
In total, the agency estimates between $550-$650 million have been stolen. The agency has recovered $370 million, as of a March 2021 report from the State Auditor’s Office. We continue to work with law enforcement and financial institutions to recover funds and hold these criminals accountable.
Office of Special Investigations
Employment Security Department's Office of Special Investigations is committed to preserving the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program. Our office conducts many types of audits throughout the year on unemployment claims to ensure the accuracy of benefit payments made. Individuals found to have committed fraud are assessed penalties (RCW 50.20.070), are required to repay the amount identified as overpaid (RCW 50.20.190), and are subject to possible state or federal criminal prosecution.
We are very interested in the information you provide to us about fraud. However, we cannot provide information to you about the action we take on any allegation reported to our office unless you are an individual defined in RCW 50.13 and WAC 192-15.
State regulations prohibit the disclosure of information contained in the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Program. There will be no further communication from our office unless one of our investigators contacts you.