California paid out $11 billion in fake jobless claims last year and about $20 billion more payments are being investigated as possible fraud, the state Labor Secretary Julie Su said on Monday.
Out of the $114 billion paid in unemployment claims between March 2020 and January 16, 2021, nearly 10% have been confirmed as fraudulent, said Su.
“There is no sugarcoating the reality, California did not have sufficient security measures in place to prevent this level of fraud, and criminals took advantage of the situation,” Su said.
Two men in Orange County California have so far been charged, District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
32-year-old Huy Duc Nguyen of Garden Grove, and Mai Dacsom Nguyen, 40, of Garden Grove, are accused of forming Nguyen Social Services to file more than 1,000 false unemployment claims with California’s Employment Development Department, or EDD, for people who did not qualify, alleged Spitzer.
“Including a 99-year-old applicant who indicated she lost her work as a house keeper because of COVID…when she hasn’t worked for decades,” said Spitzer.
The attorney also announced three separate unrelated plots, involving 10 people altogether that he said took advantage of loopholes in the state’s unemployment system to steal nearly $500,000 that should have gone to taxpayers in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead this money went to six state prisoners, including two convicted murderers who claimed the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their ability to work,” said Spitzer.
“This is massive organized fraud,” said California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. “The state needs to launch a massive and organized response.”
In 2020, California processed a record amount of unemployment benefit claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in more than five times as many unemployment claims in 2020 than in 2010, Latimes reported.
Many of the claims were processed within the first eight weeks of the pandemic in 2020 as the state did during all of 2010, according to the report.
“EDD was clearly underprepared for the type and magnitude of criminal attacks and the sheer quantity of claims,” said Rita Saenz, the EDD director. “We are focused on making the changes necessary to provide benefits to eligible Californians as quickly as possible and stopping fraud before it enters the system.”
The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Julie Su, said “EDD is now working with some of the country’s most successful fraud prevention businesses and law enforcement agencies to protect the state’s unemployment benefit system.”
“We know that many Californians are waiting on payments, and EDD is working quickly to validate their claims and get their benefits to them,” Su said.