Labor officials provide Dec. 17 update on unemployment benefits, benefits fraud

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 5:30pm

    AUGUSTA — For the week ending December 12, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 3,100 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 900 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

    In total, approximately 3,900 people were filing an initial claim or reopening their unemployment claim.

    About 13,900 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, with another 17,200 weekly certifications filed under PUA. In addition, about 12,500 weekly certifications were filed for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and 85 weekly certifications were filed for the state Extended Benefits program. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

    The majority of the increase in state unemployment claims is due to seasonal layoffs that occur every winter, such as in construction and landscaping, according to a news release.

    The majority of the new PUA initial claims and weekly certifications are due to claimants filing for PUA after exhausting their state Extended or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits, according to the release. 

    Between March 15 and December 12, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.

    The Department has handled approximately 211,000 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 101,600 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. There have been over 2.96 million weekly certifications filed.

    Reminder that the federal CARES Act unemployment programs (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) are scheduled to expire on December 26, unless Congress takes action.

    CareerCenter services are available to help people identify and take next their steps. It is a requirement that those receiving unemployment insurance benefits also be registered on the Maine JobLink, which includes a weekly newsletter for job seekers highlighting opportunities and training.

    Fraud Update

    The Maine Department of Labor continues its careful review of all claims as it investigates unemployment imposter fraud.

    During the week ending December 12, the Department cancelled 147 initial claims and 2 weekly certifications that were determined to be fraudulent.

    Unemployment imposter fraud is when a person's Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate and prevent it.

    The Maine Department of Labor is also warning unemployment claimants and adding extra security measures to protect beneficiaries from fraudulent email "phishing" scams” in which bad actors steal usernames and passwords, use them to log into unemployment accounts, and change the payment information.

    The Department was notified by the U.S. Department of Labor of scams happening across the country and is taking proactive action to review and prevent impact on Maine claimants. The Department has also received reports of phishing attempts in Maine.

    Some phishing attempts mimicked the Maine Department of Labor and provided a link to reset a password, or a link to look at recent account activity.

    The Department will never send a password reset email that wasn't requested by the individual. If someone did not request a reset and receives one of these emails, they should immediately delete the email and not respond. If they receive an email requesting they look at the recent activity in their account, they should not click on any links in the email, and instead go straight to their account.

    Claimants log-in information could also be potentially obtained by criminals if someone uses the same log-in information for multiple websites and that log-in information is compromised. The Department strongly recommends that claimants use a password that is unique to their unemployment account and is not used for anything else.