OLYMPIA, Washington, USA

Impostors have used stolen information from tens of thousands of people in Washington state to fraudulently receive hundreds of millions of dollars destined for unemployment benefits, the director of the state Department of Labor Security, Suzi LeVine reported Thursday.

The state is currently collaborating with federal authorities, financial institutions and the Department of Labor in investigating the fraud and trying to recover the money paid during the coronavirus crisis, he added.

LeVine reported that it cannot release specific figures or details of the investigation. But he said state-implemented countermeasures have “prevented hundreds of millions of dollars more from going into the hands of criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent requests from being filed.”

LeVine said that in addition to other measures taken by the agency, they will continue to delay payments – a plan they first discussed last week – to all applicants so they can further examine applications. Previously, applicants with direct deposit provisions received the money in a matter of 24 to 48 hours. Now they will have to wait two more days.

The New York Times and Seattle Times had previously reported that an alert issued last week by the Secret Service had identified Washington as the main target so far of a Nigerian network whose plan was to carry out large-scale fraud in against the state’s unemployment insurance programs. LeVine said he could not give details of the investigation, but said he did not directly receive the Secret Service alert, but that the agency received it through other sources.

However, elements of LeVine’s agency suspected something was wrong from before the alert, once they received communication from employers and employees who had received information about unsolicited unemployment benefits.

In Washington, more than 1.1 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since businesses began closing in March due to COVID-19, but state officials said Thursday they believe a portion of the increase in claims registered for the week. past is due to false requests.

LeVine had previously reported that no data theft had been reported to the agency, and that recent fraud attempts were cases where someone’s personal information had previously been stolen from other sources – such as in the 2017 Equifax hack. – and now it was used to ask for subsidies.

“These are very sophisticated criminals who have a huge collection of people’s information and now profit from that information,” he said.