About $ 16 million in pandemic unemployment assistance benefits in Hawaii may have been lost due to fraud and identity theft, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported today.
The loss of more than $ 15.8 million due to fraud represents approximately 4% of the total PUA benefits distributed in the state. DLIR has paid more than $ 387 million through legitimate claims.
The department also reported that it blocked more than $ 76.5 million in possibly fraudulent PUA claims.
PUA is a provision of the federal coronavirus relief law designed by Congress to assist Americans who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who qualify for PUA benefits include self-employed workers, independent contractors, and freelancers.
The Inspector General of the US Department of Labor and the Hawaii Attorney General’s Department are investigating the “bad actors” involved in the fraudulent claims, but DLIR Deputy Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio said there was no comment. He knows a lot about who committed the crimes.
“What we do know, I wouldn’t want to reveal, but we don’t know much, to tell you the truth,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The Kokua line from the Star-Advertiser reported on May 31 that the Hawaii unemployment office was apparently under attack by Scattered Canary, a Nigerian cybercrime network that has stolen millions of dollars of unemployment funds across the country. The Hawaii Department of Labor was informed on May 14 by the US Secret Service of a possible fraud.
Perreira-Eustaquio shared a preventive measure that is used to combat identity theft.
Involve the labor department by sending letters to verify the identity of those who have applied for PUA benefits. Potential victims who did not submit the application but received the verification letter should report the fraud to the appropriate entities so that the labor department can stop processing their claims.
“In the letter it says that if they were not the individuals who filed the claim, they took steps to notify the different companies that they were victims of fraud,” he said. “There are some websites that they can go to to file that fraudulent claim.”
The labor department said that since June 4, nearly 6,000 people have reported being victims of identity theft after receiving a letter about PUA eligibility.
The names, birthdays, social security numbers and addresses may have been stolen from the victims.
PUA applications also require a driver’s license, a phone number, and a wage record, such as a W-2 form.
Perreira-Eustaquio admitted that the measure only works if the address on the victim’s list is correct. He also said that an earlier version of the verification letter may not have included a website to file a fraudulent claim.
Also, it may not be possible to recover money if it has already been withdrawn from a bank account.
“When a direct deposit is made, if we are notified in time that someone has been a victim of fraud, we will try to recover those amounts from the bank,” said Perreira-Eustaquio.
Krishna Jayaram, the AG’s special assistant, said the GA Department has been concerned about scams and fraud since COVID-19 hit Hawaii. He said in an email that PUA fraud cases “highlight the need to be vigilant.”
Potential victims can report fraud by visiting pua.hawaii.gov.