HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scammers are hammering Hawaii’s unemployment system and have netted at least $15.8 million in fraudulent jobless benefits, the state revealed Thursday.
And that could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Another $76.6 million in payments have been labeled as “potentially fraudulent” and are under investigation, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
The fraudulent claims were filed through Hawaii’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, a federally-funded initiative that was established through the CARES Act.
Nationally and locally, scammers have been attacking the nation’s network of unemployment systems, taking advantage of offices overwhelmed by unprecedented unemployment levels.
The scammers use stolen information from thousands of Hawaii residents to file fraudulent claims.
“Unfortunately, bad actors including organized crime continue to attack the program designed to support our vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said deputy Labor Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, in a news release, adding that the state is working with authorities on the fraud.
She added the state will “prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
The state is trying to recoup some of the money it’s determined is fraudulent by stopping payments or seeking to reverse them. It was not immediately clear how much of the money was still accessible.
The fraud investigation comes as Hawaii’s unemployment rate remains the second-highest in the nation, at more than 22%. Nearly 240,000 people have filed unemployment claims in the state.
And so far, more than $1.7 billion in benefits have been paid out.
To try to identify fraudulent claims, the state has had to dramatically slow their processing of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications ― something that’s hurting those who are actually eligible for help.
The office has sent letters to PUA recipients asking them to confirm they legitimately filed, and has identified nearly 6,000 fraud victims through that effort.
In the meantime, though, those waiting for benefits are reporting significant delays in getting much-needed cash due to the enhanced verification process.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was established by Congress in the wake of the pandemic to help independent contractors, gig workers and other freelancers whose work had dried up.
If you do receive a letter regarding a claim for PUA and you did not apply for benefits, report the potential identity theft by clicking here.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
To check if your email has been breached, click here.
More information about identity theft and PUA can be found here.