State unemployment hit by fraud

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The economic bloodbath precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic continued unabated during the month of April as the state unemployment rate reached 15.8 percent. Whatcom was one of the hardest hit counties with a third highest unemployment rate of 17.2 percent behind Snohomish (20.2) and Skagit (19.1). In all, 610,700 Washingtonians found themselves unemployed in April compared to 172,500 (4.4%) in 2019.

All sectors of the economy were hit, but leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services suffered most.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,301,564 people have applied for unemployment benefits in Washington. Of these, 751,149 individuals have received benefits totaling nearly $2.9 billion. In the three weeks ending May 9, there were 109,425 (May 3-9), 100,762 (April 26-May 2) and 137,605 (April 19-25) claims filed.

The speed by which claims are adjudicated and approved slowed down in the beginning of May due to the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) being hit by a flood of “imposter fraud,” where criminals using stolen personal information fraudulently applied for unemployment benefits.

As a result, the ESD was holding payments for 1-2 days to validate all claims as authentic. If you believe your personal information is being used to collect unemployment, you can report it at esd.wa.gov/fraud.

According to the U.S. Secret Service, criminal gangs operating out of Nigeria have been responsible for the majority of the attacks. 

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