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When the first massive coronavirus aid package was passed in Congress it included substantial benefits for workers who lost their jobs because of the government-mandated shutdown. One of the biggest was the federal enhancement of state unemployment benefits, increasing weekly payments by up to six hundred dollars. As we quickly learned, Senate Republicans’ concerns over not having a cap on those benefits to prevent the payments from exceeding the employee’s previous salary were fully justified.
That didn’t wind up being the only problem with the plan, however. We’re now learning that the hastily rushed through bill and the flood of people applying for benefits left the door open for scammers and identity thieves to tap into the system and falsely claim benefits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The first epicenter of this massive scheme was detected in Washington State, but it quickly spread to others. (Associated Press)
It turned out that, like thousands of Washington state residents, [Dayna] Lurie’s identity was 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.
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