Tens of thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims for $158 million have been made in Massachusetts using stolen personal information, state labor officials said Tuesday.
The 58,616 claims that have been verified as fake so far aren't just costing money, they're delaying financial assistance for real people who need it amid the coronavirus crisis, the officials noted in a news release.
"It is unfortunate that because of this criminal activity, people who really need our support may face delays in receiving the benefits they need," said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta in a statement.
If you think you've had a fake claim filed under your name, call the Department of Unemployment Assistance at 877-626-6800 or fill out a fraud form at mass.gov/unemployment-fraud.
As of the last week of June, the department has recovered $158 million in claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and to the Department of Unemployment Assistance.
Labor officials say the fake claims are being submitted by criminals who acquired people's stolen personal information through previous data breaches, something that's happening around the country. To combat the fraudulent claims, the Department of Unemployment Assistance is taking extra steps to verify claimaints' identities, which may be slowing down the processing of some legitimate claims.
Nearly 1 million unemployment claims have been in Massachusetts between March 8 and June 30, according to the department's release, with about 702,000 paid out. Some 650,000 more Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications have been filed between mid-April and the end of June, about half of which have been paid.
The 56,000 fraudulent claims found by June 20 is about 3.6% of the total number of claims, according to the statistics provided by the department.
“Protecting the integrity of the unemployment system and ensuring benefits are only going to valid claimants is the top priority of the Department of Unemployment Assistance,” Acosta said, adding that the department is working to make sure that people "with valid unemployment claims receive financial assistance during these difficult times."
The administration has been warning about a "national unemployment fraud scheme" for months. It comes while Massachusetts contends with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.