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Agency says jobless claims slowed by massive fraud efforts

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Processing unemployment claims in Michigan was slowed by an unprecedented wave of fraud attempts during the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s according to testimony Thursday by the director of the unemployment agency before a state Senate committee.

Unemployment system director Liza Estlund Olson spoke to the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee.She said there’s been a huge increase in fraud attempts during the COVID-19 crisis. She said many claims were fakes that had to be weeded out, some were questionable, and resolving all that slowed down processing legitimate claims.

“And so you’ve got people who are honest, and people who aren’t, which is part of what the problem is.”

Olson said contacting lawmakers’ offices is often part of schemes to push through fraudulent claims.

“These criminals have become incredibly brazen in attempts to verify their identity by calling legislative and congressional offices as well as submitting fake documents.”

Republican Senator Ken Horn chairs the committee. Horn said he’d like to see unemployment offices re-opened for in-person visits to resolve questions.

“We should be able to do this safely and eyeball to eyeball because they don’t necessarily have the technology, the broadband. Certainly telephone calls weren’t getting answered. That’s why we were getting them.”

Olson said the unemployment agency has added staff to sort through the claims. She says 3.5 million claims have been processed since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.