Unemployment fraud continues to spike, following $1.6 million paid last month to impostors

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Unemployment fraud is skyrocketing. The state's unemployment office announced today that for the next two days there won't be any unemployment benefits paid out, as part of their effort to validate claims and weed out the fraudulent ones.

It's all taking a massive toll, especially on the people need unemployment benefits right now in order to survive.

"There are people out there who need to feed their families, pay their rent and keep their lights on," says Emily Delzer.

Emily is one of the many Washingtonians who lost their job after the COVID-19 outbreak and thought it'd be relatively simple to get unemployment benefits they're entitled to.

"I initially filed my application on March 16th, filed my first claim on March 23rd and still haven’t received any money. No phone calls, no messages, nothing. It's impossible to get through on any phone lines, obviously emailing is challenging because they don't respond back."

Washington state paid out $1.8 billion of benefits in April alone, but about 57,000 people in our state who filed many weeks ago haven't seen a penny.

The state announced Operation 100% earlier this week, with a vow to have many of those 57,000 claims paid or resolved within the next two weeks, and 100% completed by mid June.

But for people like Emily, the waiting and daunting uncertainty of it all is agonizing.

"Honestly it feels like you’re out here drowning in the water and there's a boat of people looking at you holding life vests and they’re just staring at you not doing anything."

And the idea that some people getting paid are fraudsters is unbearable to people who have waited months for a check they desperately need.

"I cannot even wrap my mind around it...how many millions of dollars have they paid out in fraud?"

ESD officials say impostors who file for benefits using someone's stolen identity is an issue they're fighting hard, but it's only getting worse.

To put it in perspective, the loss of benefits to impostors in February was about $5,000. In March it grew to $40,000. And in April, a total of of $1.6 million was dished out to fraudsters.

This month, things are now getting so severe and widespread, some of the very people investigating these crimes are falling victims to it.

"I am now a victim of identity theft," says Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office.

Detective Troyer got a startling 10 letters in the mail, all today, about his supposed unemployment, suggesting the impostor has already been receiving benefits.

"When I talked to Tacoma Police they said this is going on, that they have some of their own officers, firefighters, along with citizens throughout the area that are being scammed," says Troyer.

Troyer says being a victim of this isn't just a violation, it's a huge inconvenience and overall mess that he knows many are dealing with.

"I can feel their frustration, I can feel their pain, and I do when I meet victims and I see this happening, but to actually be involved and feel like you're spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere adds a new dimension to it."

If you've been a victim of unemployment fraud, the FBI says contact the state Employment Security Department. You can file your claim at esd.wa.gov/fraud.

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