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Seattle - Washington State Hit Hard By Unemployment Fraud

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The State of Washington admitted yesterday that has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to bogus. Unemployment claims this is the latest and biggest example of an increasing number of pandemic related fraud cases. Npr's Martin Kostya reports. The crisis has created ideal conditions for scammers. By last weekend. It was already pretty clear that something bad was happening to Washington. State's unemployment system Jevon West is an associate professor at the University of Washington Seattle. I get this email from my gain that said Oh my identity has been stolen. Yours might be to you better. Check turns out. Somebody was impersonating university faculty members using their names and social security numbers to apply unemployment benefits and West found that his idea was being misused. This way too. I have colleagues across the university in the medical school in the law school and every single group that I've talked to there was at least some and in some cases many had their identity stolen there have been similar reports from all across Washington and the state now acknowledges that there have been tens of thousands of bogus unemployment claims and just a few weeks. It's lost hundreds of millions of dollars or will I did eight jaw-dropping figure yesterday the State's Commissioner for Employment Security. Suzy Levine held zoom. Press conference about what happened. She wouldn't give many details because a team of federal investigators is trying to track down the criminal network behind this and get the money back but when asked whether the state had been taking enough precautions against this kind of fraud. She pointed to the pandemic and the urgency of the economic crisis overbalanced. How do we balance getting that money out? Broadly and quickly with clamping down in order to keep out the criminals and the fraudsters cybercrime gangs always like it when governments are in a hurry to disperse money and now there's trillions of dollars in aid flowing out of Congress. The race is on. Patrick Peterson is the founder of email security company called Gary. It's been monitoring a major west African cybercrime gang watching as it attacks. The unemployment systems of at least eight states. They're trying to get to the websites to register to fill in the information to fill out claim and get those funds before the people who are actually do them can do so. Experts think the gangs are filling out those claim forms by drawing on the ocean of personal information about us. That's been stolen in recent years. For instance from facts in two thousand seventeen eve of Alaska's a CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center a nonprofit that helps victims it. Also tracks data breaches. But she says right now. That kind of hacking isn't the priority for these criminals Ria the number of breaches occurring actually fall this quarter. But that's because they're they're no longer seeking out the data now they're trying to monetize it and they're not going after just government money. There's also been a jump. In pandemic themed scams that target individuals for instance fake warnings that you've been exposed to the corona virus to be able to use a nugget of truth and then spend their yard and now because things are so disorienting it does tend to put us in a position where we think well is that true. I mean it could be because I never thought this could happen and I'm living it and that has some disturbing implications if scammers pretend to be say contact tracers then. How will people respond to a call from real contact tracers? Jevon West. The academic whose identity was stolen at the start of this story the University of Washington Center for an informed public. He happens to study misinformation and disinformation. He calls this pandemic long-term state of uncertainty. And when there's so much uncertainty you get these knowledge vacuums. That sort of attract opportunists. Send propaganda that are either trying to push narrative that are trying to sow confusion the trying to just make a buck and there are lots of people trying to make a buck right now around it. Now that his own identities been used for fraud. West says he's resolved to do more at his center to alert the public to Cova scams and the damage they do to our ability to figure out what's real in an unreal time.

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