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July 9, 2020

Ongoing investigation has so far found 58,000 fraudulent unemployment claims

The Massachusetts State House

Investigators have so far detected more than 58,000 fraudulent unemployment claims in Massachusetts amid an alleged national criminal scheme, but state officials still have not disclosed how much money paid out in error.

The state Department of Unemployment Assistance announced Monday that it verified 58,616 fraudulent claims through June 20, the first insight into the scale of the false applications since officials announced the problem in May.

Through the same span, the department recovered $158 million in fraudulent claims, it announced Monday. However, the press release did not indicate how much it paid overall to applications submitted as part of the scheme.

Officials have been hesitant to discuss the impact publicly. When asked about the topic last week, Gov. Charlie Baker cited ongoing federal investigations.

"Protecting the integrity of the unemployment system and ensuring benefits are only going to valid claimants is the top priority of the Department of Unemployment Assistance," Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said Monday. "It is unfortunate that because of this criminal activity, people who really need our support may face delays in receiving the benefits they need. We will continue to work with our state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as our dedicated constituent service personnel, to ensure that those with valid unemployment claims receive financial assistance during these difficult times."

Between March 8 and June 30, the department received 976,123 initial claims for standard unemployment insurance, 183,144 of which were denied. It also received another 649,764 for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program making aid available to previously ineligible individuals such as gig workers and denied 282,440 of them.

Ernst & Young has been hired by the state to conduct a forensic accounting as part of the fraud investigation. Department officials said they would provide further updates "as soon as they are available" while continuing to implement additional identity verification measures that may temporarily delay the payment timeframe for some unemployment claims.

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