Unemployment fraud is against the law – help catch cheaters

April 21, 2011 

The numbers are staggering.

The state Department of Employment Security has identified nearly 7,000 people who lied in order to collect unemployment benefits in 2010. Those individuals stole more than $14 million in unemployment benefits – up 6 percent from 2009.

The good news is the cheaters will have to pay back the money and face additional penalties, ranging from fines to potential jail time. The other good news is that last year Employment Security investigators recovered nearly $11 million in benefits that were acquired fraudulently.

It’s up to each of us to report individuals we know who are trying to scam the system. Call the department’s fraud investigations unit at 866-810-0210 or report it online at www.suspectfraud.com.

Paul Trause Employment Security commissioner said, “We actively go after people who are stealing unemployment benefits in order to protect the benefits fund for people who legitimately qualify.”

That’s a good point. When cheaters cheat, they are taking benefits from people who have legitimate unemployment claims.

The Employment Security Department conducts many types of audits throughout the year on unemployment claims to ensure the accuracy of benefit payments. When those audits uncover irregularities, those people who have committed fraud are held accountable up to, and including, possible state or federal criminal prosecution.

But investigators cannot possibly identify every cheater. Investigators rely on the public to spot those who are bilking the system.

Of the increase in fraud cases in 2010, Annette Taylor, chief investigative officer for Employment Security said, “It’s not completely clear whether there is more fraud, or we’re just getting better at uncovering it. Probably a little of both.”

Taylor said her agency’s investigative team has expanded and improved its efforts to cross-match records with other state agencies, a strategy that is paying dividends.

Some people continue to claim and collect unemployment benefits even after they have landed a job.

Others start a business and continue to collect.

In a press release, Employment security officials said, “In one of the odder cases, an individual was redeeming his unemployment checks twice. His bank allowed him to take a picture of his check and deposit it electronically. To double his money, he cashed his actual checks at a different establishment. If that weren’t enough, he also used his infant child’s name to file for additional unemployment benefits. A call to the department’s fraud line led investigators to the suspect.”

That shows the importance of fraud tips from the public.

Employment Security officials said, “In another instance, a routine cross-match check with the Department of Labor and Industries uncovered an individual who was collecting unemployment benefits and worker’s compensation at the same time. The problem is, the individual wasn’t eligible for unemployment benefits because he was unable to work due to an injury.”

That case shows that those bent on cheating will find a way.

That doesn’t mean that they should not be held accountable, however.

Last December about 150,000 jobless workers in Washington saw their pay cut $25 a week when a federal stimulus program ended. At the time, Employment Security Commissioner Trause said, “When your check is only two or three hundred dollars a week, $25 is significant.”

At time, Employment Security officials said the state’s average weekly benefit was about $370. The minimum weekly check was $135.

Given that small sum, it’s easy to understand why some people resort to fraudulent means to boost their weekly income. It’s easy to understand, but that doesn’t make it right.

Fraud is a crime, and those caught cheating should be forced to answer for their criminal behavior.

The public can make that happen by reporting those committing fraud to Employment Security investigators. All it takes is one phone call or online report.

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