Unemployment application

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington state Auditor will investigate the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits to criminals who used stolen identities to file claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

State Auditor Pat McCarthy on Wednesday told Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature that there will be two special examinations of the fraud and loss of public funds at the state Employment Security Department

One will be a probe to examine factors that led to delayed and improper payments for unemployment benefits and the second will be an information technology audit to examine potential weaknesses in the computer systems.

Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said last week officials are still working to determine the final amount paid out fraudulently, but they believe it was between $550 million and $650 million. The state has recovered $333 million.

LeVine released the following statement regarding the announcement:

“We welcome this opportunity – both in the spirit of continuous improvement and, most importantly, in our primary charge to provide ever better service to the people of Washington. We believe that the key learnings from this audit will help not just ESD, but all of state government. Our goal in this unprecedented crisis has been and continues to be getting benefits out to eligible Washingtonians as quickly as possible. We look forward to working with Auditor McCarthy and her team to accelerate the work that will meet that goal.”

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, experts say.

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