Hundreds of residents around the county are finding fraudulent unemployment claims made in their names over the last month.

"We have seen a dramatic, enormous increase in unemployment fraud calls for service here," said Commander Mark Thomas of the Marysville Police Department.

"Before we would get about one call a month, and now there's about 25 to 30 calls per day," he said.

The biggest problem is individuals who have gained access to Social Security numbers and other personal information.

"It appears that individuals of a criminal element are accessing people's names and Social Security numbers and applying for unemployment benefits under those people's names," said Thomas.

"Individuals are pulling information from multiple information breaches that have happened over the last few years, Equifax for example," said Employment Security Department public affairs director Nick Demerice in a May 20 telephone town hall.

Demerice said individuals are using that information to build profiles of real people and falsely applying under those names.

"Our state has been hit particularly hard, partially because we have a generous unemployment benefit," he said.

Because businesses and the ESD have had a heavy workload, those applying fraudulently have had an easier time.

"If the employers are doing their due diligence it doesn't necessarily equal a loss in money for the state," said Thomas.

"Employers need to be doing their due diligence and not just rubber stamping claims," he said. Thomas recommends businesses make sure that the claim is coming from their employee or ex-employee and working with the Employment Security Department.

The fraudulent claims combined with the unprecedented number of legitimate claims coming in have caused a lot of trouble for many residents.

"What can happen is a claim gets filed fraudulently and then that person is actually laid off later," said Thomas.

The actual person now has to wait for the Employment Security Department to clear up the fraud.

"It delays the benefits for the legitimate person. What should have been a week is turning into a four- to six-week wait," said Thomas.

The department delayed millions of dollars of payments in May for about two days to prevent more fraud.

"If you are who you say you are, you're going to keep your benefits," said Demerice. "Our goal is to avoid paying more money to these criminals."

Victims of fraud will not have to repay benefits taken out in their name and this kind of fraudulent activity will not affect future eligibility of unemployment benefits, said Demerice.

Those who have been the victim of fraudulent claims can report to the Marysville Police Department online at mycrimereport.us.

"Because of the high volume of calls, we're encouraging citizens that are a victim to report from our online system," said Thomas. "Also, they should get a hold of the Employment Security Department to file a claim as well."

Even those who are still employed can sign up for an account with their name and Social Security number at the Employment Security Department to deter any fraudulent claims under their name, said Thomas.

Those who wish to create an account can go to esd.wa.gov.

The people filing fraudulent claims are making hundreds of claims a day and if they try and create an account that already exists it will bounce back, said Thomas.

"If they get a bounce back they'll likely focus on the ones that went through," and not those that already had an account, he said.

 

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