Washington state officials said that fraudsters used stolen information to receive hundreds of millions in unemployment benefits, The Associated Press reports.
Suzi Levine, the head of the state’s Employment Security Department, said the state if working to try to recover the money.
LeVine said she could not say the specific amount stolen because the investigation is ongoing but said the state took measures that “prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent claims being filed.”
LeVine said that as a result of the scam the state will delay payments for an additional two days and take extra steps to verify claims.
Washington targeted by Nigerian scammers:
The announcement came after news outlets reported that the Secret Service alerted that Washington was targeted by a Nigerian fraud ring seeking to commit large-scale unemployment fraud.
LeVine said the state realized something was wrong when workers who were sent information about unemployment benefits reported that they did not apply for them.
“These are very sophisticated criminals who have pretty robust collections of information on people, and they are activating and monetizing that information,” she said.
System rife for fraud:
The fraud came as the state rushed to send out benefits to the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted by the coronavirus shutdown.
Washington has seen more than 1.1 million unemployment applications since March.
More than 1.6 million claims were paid out last week. More than $1 billion was paid to more than 560,000 people.
The state has paid out nearly $3.8 billion since the pandemic began.