A recent surge in fraudulent unemployment claims in Washington state appears to have subsided, but new claims for jobless benefits are still high by historical standards.
Washingtonians filed 11,666 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 40.5% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.
The sharp decline follows a two-week spike that was largely driven by claims flagged as fraudulent by ESD security systems. The suspect claims were probably filed by criminals using the stolen identities of Washingtonians, ESD officials said.
ESD officials became suspicious in early May when claims, which had averaged just over 12,000 a week since late February, jumped to 16,605 and 19,619 for successive weeks.
ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice said the agency hasn’t found that it paid out benefits on any of the suspicious claims from the recent attack. That indicates that the ESD’s fraud controls, which were upgraded after the state was hit by a $650 million unemployment fraud last year, “worked and continue to do so,” he added.
Still, the number of new claims filed last week in Washington remains high by historical standards.
Last week’s number is nearly double the four-week moving average for new claims from the period just before the pandemic started in March 2020 — and is roughly similar to levels during the Great Recession, according to the ESD.
In Washington, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped 11.3% to 416,462 last week.
New claims for federal pandemic extended unemployment benefits — for workers who have exhausted state benefits — fell 25.3% last week compared to the prior week.
Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 292,823 individual claims, down 5.3% from the prior week. Because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of those claims is often slightly higher than the number of individual claimants.
Since March 2020, more than 1 million Washingtonians have received more than $18.4 billion in jobless benefits, with about two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government. By comparison, in each of the previous 10 years, the ESD’s annual payout averaged just over $1 billion, the ESD said.
Thursday’s claims data comes one day after the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment of a Nigerian citizen, Abidemi Rufai, for allegedly stealing more than $350,000 as part of last year’s $650 million scheme.