BOSTON — Thousands of Massachusetts residents who are relying on unemployment benefits to get them through the COVID-19 economic crisis could see their benefits halted temporarily.
The state Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) announced scammers have attempted to file “large amounts of illegitimate unemployment claims” through its system.
The agency said it implemented additional identification verification processes that could delay payments to claimants.
At least a half dozen states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have been targeted by the scammers who are using stolen personal information from previous national data breaches to file bogus claims in several states.
25 Investigates began receiving emails from concerned viewers late last week. Several feared that they had been victims of fraud, while others worried about putting food on the table because their unemployment benefits had suddenly stopped.
“I was very scared. I thought that my identity has been stolen,” Cynthia Perregaux told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel.
The teacher from Northborough said she never applied for unemployment benefits. So she was very surprised when she received a letter over the weekend from DUA notifying her benefits were approved and on the way. The letter shows the fraudulent claim was filed using her maiden name and an incorrect social security number.
“This person is going to get $400 each week, and $133 per dependent, plus $600 a week,” she said. “I really don't know how they're going to go about and, and fix everything for everybody that this has happened to.”
Neil Sullivan from Yarmouth says he has been unemployed due to COVID-19 and was receiving unemployment compensation until two weeks when his payments suddenly stopped.
Sullivan, who owns a house cleaning business, called DUA to find out what happened to his benefits and was told his account needed additional verification because widespread fraud had been detected.
”I'm trying to, you know, be calm about it, and you know, not get upset,” said the new dad. “The thought of having to go to a food pantry to ask for food, having your lights shut off. The Electric Company is not going to care about this.”
Sullivan said DUA could not tell him when his payment will resume.
In a statement, the DUA says it has begun “implementing additional identity verification measures that will temporarily delay the payment timeframe for many unemployment claims in Massachusetts. As a result of these measures, certain unemployment claimants may be asked to provide additional identity information in order to verify the validity of their claim.”
The agency says it has detected a “large amount” of phony claims, but did not specify how many Massachusetts residents were impacted. DUA also urges anyone who suspects their identity was used to fraudulently file a claim to call the customer service department or fill out a fraud contact form on their website.
Here is the news release from the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA):
"Criminal enterprises in possession of stolen personal information from earlier national data breaches have been attempting to file large amounts of illegitimate unemployment claims through the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) system. This is part of a national unemployment fraud scheme.
The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has begun implementing additional identity verification measures that will temporarily delay the payment timeframe for many unemployment claims in Massachusetts. As a result of these measures, certain unemployment claimants may be asked to provide additional identity information in order to verify the validity of their claim."
“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,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. “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. 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.”
If you believe you may have had a false unemployment claim filed using your identity, you should use the Department of Unemployment Assistance fraud contact form or call the DUA customer service department at 877-626-6800.
Additional updates related to this criminal activity will be posted at mass.gov/unemployment as soon as they are available.
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