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Michigan unemployment agency sounds alarm about new wave of identity theft claims

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

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency is warning the public that it is experiencing a new wave of imposter claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance

Agency officials said the UIA has flagged for potential fraud about 100,000 claims that have been filed in Michigan in less than one week since April 2.

Officials said criminal attempts to gain access to expanded benefits under the federal PUA program are occuring across the country, with criminals posing as self-employed workers or independent contractors.

Officials said payments will not go out until claimants' identities have been verified. An agency spokesperson said the majority of the cases will be resolved within 14 days. 

Imposter claims are filed using previously stolen or fraudulent information. But UIA officials said no personal information has been stolen from the unemployment agency.

Acting UIA director Liza Estlund Olson said the imposter claims have been identified because of additional fraud protections developed last year in the face of an avalanche of pandemic-related unemployment claims.

"We continue to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of the system and the benefits for those who rightfully deserve them," said Olson in a written statement. 

The agency estimatesthat it lost "hundreds of millions" of dollars to fraudsters in mostly federal unemployment benefits as it struggled to process unprecedented numbers of unemployment claims in the early stages of the pandemic.

When fraudulent or suspicious claims are identified by the agency, a letter is sent by mail to the address on the claim to verify the identity of the claimant.  The agency cautions that if you receive that kind of letter and you did not make a claim, you may be the victim of identity theft and asks that you alert the agency.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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