There was a 36% decrease in initial regular unemployment claims filed in Washington last week, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD). It is the second week in a row the department reported a decrease in initial claims filed.
For the week of May 24-30, ESD said there were 31,224 initial regular unemployment claims filed, and 774,959 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories.
The ESD believes the continued decrease in initial claims is due to fraud prevention measures and residents returning to work as the state continues to reopen.
“The dramatic decline in initial claims this week is a strong signal that the additional steps we are taking to address imposter fraud are working. We’ve already recovered and stopped the payments of hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims in the past two weeks, and we will continue to reclaim every dollar we can,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine.
The ESD said over $514.7 million was paid last week for 400,352 individual claims. ESD has paid out nearly $4.9 billion in benefits since the week ending March 7.
For the week of May 17-23, ESD said there were 48,445 initial regular unemployment claims filed, which is a 65% decrease from the previous week. Approximately 1,497,600 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories were filed the same week.
Last month, LeVine said the EDS saw a "significant rise" in reports of imposter fraud since the start of May. She said the names of potentially thousands of Washingtonians, many who remain employed, were used to make fake unemployment claims and defraud the state of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The state vowed to recover the funds and appear to be making some progress.
Officials said they believe they have recovered about half of the hundreds of millions in unemployment benefits paid to criminals who used the stolen identities to file claims. Officials are still working to determine the final amount paid out fraudulently, but they believe it was between $550 million and $650 million.
To date, the state has recovered $333 million, and it hopes to reclaim more.
A West African fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach, is believed to be behind the fraud, which has targeted nearly a dozen states, according to California cybersecurity firm Agari.
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