Washington auditor will examine huge theft of unemployment benefits


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.

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.