AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Labor is continuing to work with its state and federal law enforcement partners, according to a news release, to investigate criminal unemployment imposter fraud.
During the week ending June 6, the Maine Department of Labor cancelled about 6,500 initial claims and 11,500 weekly certifications suspected of being fraudulent.
To date, the Department has received over 17,000 reports of unemployment imposter fraud, some of which could be duplicates if both the employee and employer reported the fraud.
The extent of potential unemployment imposter fraud remains under investigation.
Unemployment imposter fraud is when a person’s Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen from outside the unemployment system 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, per the release.
Based on the experience of other states, the amount lost to fraud may be in the tens of millions.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, Maine Department of Labor, Maine Attorney General’s Office, Maine IT, Maine State Police, Maine State Treasurer, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI are working together to investigate and stop the fraudulent unemployment claims. In Maine, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General are spearheading the federal investigative effort.
“The magnitude of fraudulent claims, and the amount of funds at risk of being lost to criminals, necessitated serious measures not taken under normal circumstances,” said Commissioner Laura Fortman. “The Department is working hard to get Mainers the benefits they deserve, and stop organized fraudsters and scammers from stealing from innocent workers and employers.”
On May 26, the Department announced a temporary hold on benefit payments in light of rising awareness of fraud. On May 28, the Department released $76 million in benefits to about 65,000 people following its review. About $13 million in benefits filed by 2,200 “individuals” were cancelled as a fraudulent.
Another $49 million filed by 14,700 remained under review, based on indicators for fraud shared by Integrity Data Hub, a database of fraudulent unemployment activity across the country, and by state and federal law enforcement authorities. These claims, which show a status of paid with a date of 9/9/9999, now require independent verification of identity.
The Department believes some legitimate claims are being flagged as potentially fraudulent, through no fault of the claimant. The Department has created a secure process for people who believe their claim was cancelled or held for review incorrectly to provide proof of ID to reinstate their claims.
Those whose claims were cancelled for suspected fraud or whose claim has been flagged for potential fraud (showing a 9/9/9999), must email the Maine Department of Labor at its secure email IDVerification.UC@maine.gov and provide scans or photos of TWO forms of identification, one of which must be a government issued photo ID, along with a photo of themselves taken at the time of submission.
Photo IDs could include a drivers license, passport or Military ID.
Non-photo documentation could include a Social Security card, recent utility bill that shows your name and residential address or a birth certificate.
To expedite verifications, 16 law enforcement officers from the Maine Department of Corrections are now working with the department on a temporary basis to review identity documentation. Documentation will be worked through in the order it is submitted to the Department. As claims are reviewed and determined to be valid, payments will be released.
To date, the department has received 6,600 emails with supporting documentation to prove an individual’s identity. Many of these are duplicates from claimants sending in verification multiple times. The Department requests that anyone trying to resolve a claim only submit their documentation once, as multiple submissions could cause further delays.
To date, over 3,500 claims have been verified and reinstated.
The Department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employee’s personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft.