by Luke Putvin | Lynnwood Times Staff
On May 14, Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner, Suzi LeVine, released a statement touching on 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,” LeVine said. “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.”
LeVine went on to say the ESD is seeing personal information stolen from sources other than their agency, such as data breaches like the Equifax breach. This information is then used to apply for benefits, and those committing the fraud try to route the payments to their own bank accounts.
“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.”
LeVine explained that the ESD is taking additional steps as it sees the increase in imposter fraud such as increasing number of agents on the fraud hotline, hiring more fraud investigators, cross matching data with other state agencies and working with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Additionally, LeVine said that the three most important things to know about unemployment imposter fraud are: “(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.”
LeVine offered an update on May 18 mentioning that this sort of fraud is not just happening in Washington and that the ESD is continuing to work with other states, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Additionally, the ESD is now holding all payments for 1-2 days to validate all claims as authentic.
“This is such a difficult and unprecedented time, and unfortunately criminals use situations like these to try and gain advantage,” LeVine 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.”
For more information about imposter fraud and information on how to report it, visit www.esd.wa.gov/fraud.