Warning unemployment fraud
Thousands of Washington state residents identities were used by criminals seeking to capitalize on a flood of legitimate unemployment claims by sneaking in fraudulent ones.
Washington’s race to help newly laid-off residents as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the economy left it vulnerable to such scams, and last week officials hinted at the scope of the damage done: hundreds of millions of dollars paid out in fake claims. Much of it apparently went to a West African fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach.
State and federal authorities have tried to claw back as much money as possible and say they have blocked hundreds of millions more from being paid out, but Washington’s experience is nevertheless a cautionary tale.
By late last week, attacks had been detected in at least nine states, most recently Ohio and Hawaii. In many cases, the fraudsters have used identities of people who haven’t lost their jobs, so they aren’t likely to immediately notice someone else filing in their name. They’ve been able to have the money sent to prepaid debit cards associated with bank accounts, from which they can have it transferred internationally or quickly exchanged for bitcoin or gift cards.
Washington may have been simply unlucky in being the first state targeted, but it’s also known internationally as the home of Microsoft and Amazon, it offers the second most generous unemployment benefits in the country, and it was one of the first states to implement the federal coronavirus aid bill that provided additional money for unemployed workers.
01 June 2020 - EN-