The payment of unemployment benefits to some claimants may be delayed as the state implements new steps to verify the identity of applicants in response to what the Baker administration called a "national unemployment fraud scheme."
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said Wednesday that criminal enterprises with access to stolen personal information from prior national data breaches were attempting to file large numbers of unemployment benefits claims through the Department of Unemployment Assistance system.
As a result, unemployed workers may be asked to provide additional identifying information with their claims for benefits that could temporarily delay payment, the department said.
"Protecting the integrity of the unemployment system and ensuring benefits are going only to valid claimants is a top priority of the Department of Unemployment Assistance," Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said in a statement.
"While the program integrity measures we are taking will, unfortunately, mean that some claimants will experience temporary delays in payment, we believe these steps are necessary to respond to this unemployment scam."
The department did not immediately say how many fraudulent claims may have been filed, or how much in benefits may have been paid out in error.
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On April 30, the last time it published financial data about unemployment insurance, the administration said it had paid more than $2.3 billion in assistance since claims began to surge on March 15.
"We are working rapidly to respond to this scheme and urge individuals who may have had a false unemployment claim filed in their name to contact the Department," Acosta said Wednesday.
The Massachusetts unemployment rate hit an historic high at 15.1% in April when the state's economy shed 623,000 jobs during the first full month of the business shutdowns ordered by the government to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Since March 15, more than 1.23 million workers in Massachusetts have filed claims for traditional unemployment benefits or through the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that made benefits available to previously ineligible individuals such as gig and self-employed workers.
That volume of initial claims represents more than a third of the state's labor force.