About 5,400 Mainers filed for unemployment last week, marking a sharp drop in the number of people seeking jobless benefits as the state pursues tens of thousands of fraudulent benefits claims.

The Maine Department of Labor reported that 6,700 new federal and state unemployment claims were filed in Maine last week, the lowest number of new claims since the pandemic triggered mass layoffs three months ago. The number of claims is higher than the number of people because of overlap between state and federal assistance.

Last week’s initial claims were about 75 percent lower than the number of people filing for unemployment in the last week of May.

Organized fraud using stolen personal information likely inflated benefit claims in the last two weeks of May, the department said. Another 6,000 fraudulent initial claims and 11,500 continuing, or weekly, claims were canceled last week, the department said.

In total, the department has canceled 16,000 fake initial claims and more than 28,000 weekly claims. Workers and employers have reported at least 17,000 fraudulent claims, the department reported. Some of those reports may be duplicates.

State and federal authorities have said that organized criminals used personal information stolen during data breaches to file for benefits under people’s names. The department temporarily halted payments two weeks ago to root out fake claims.

About $13 million due to be paid out to 2,200 fraudulent claims has been canceled, the department said. It is reviewing another $49 million due to 14,700 claims. It is unclear how much the state may have paid out to date in fraudulent claims so far.

“That is part of the ongoing investigation at this point,” spokeswoman Jessica Picard said.

State unemployment systems across the country were hit with a wave of fraud. Michigan reported 340,000 claims were flagged for fraud, about 20 percent of total filings, according to the Detroit Free Press. Washington state auditors launched an investigation of the state’s unemployment system after it acknowledged paying out at least $550 million in fraudulent claims, the Seattle Times reported.

The U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General told lawmakers last week that the department was aggressively pursuing more than 300 investigative matters of unemployment fraud and billions of dollars could be lost.

About 10 percent of unemployment payments are improper under the best of times, and the United States is in the worst of times, Scott Dahl told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reforms.

“That means at least $26 billion will be wasted and a large portion of that will be pocketed by fraudsters instead of going to legitimate workers,” Dahl said in a written statement.

Some legitimate claims have been held up as the state verifies personal information. People who have received a payment notice marked with 9/9/9999 as the date are told to supply two forms of identification, one a photo ID, to the state by email at [email protected]

The labor department said it had received 6,600 emails with supporting documentation to prove an individual’s identity as of Thursday afternoon. However, many are duplicates from claimants sending in verification multiple times and the department asked that people trying to resolve a claim only submit documentation once. To date, over 3,500 claims have been verified and reinstated, the department said.

Picard, the spokeswoman, said the department had brought in law enforcement partners from the Maine Department of Corrections to help identification verification and have gone through roughly 1,000 claims, Picard said.

“This process is ongoing, as every week we receive thousands of claims, which all must go through the screening process,” Picard said.

The department “is working as fast as possible to ensure Maine people are paid the benefits they deserve, and regrets that this illegal impostor fraud perpetrated by criminals has caused this delay,” she said.

As the state weeds through illegal claims, the number of people filing for unemployment has fallen to its lowest point since the pandemic hit three months ago.

Last week, the labor department received 3,700 claims for federal unemployment assistance and 3,000 claims for state benefits. Some of the claims are duplicates because of overlap between traditional state unemployment insurance and federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance available to those ineligible for state benefits.

Maine’s official unemployment rate in April was 11 percent. The true unemployment rate is likely higher because many workers were not counted accurately. The May unemployment rate will be released next week.

Maine workers continue reporting problems using the state’s online claims system and an inability to reach anyone at the department by phone or email to answer questions about their claims.

Last week Mainers filed 77,000 weekly claims for state unemployment and 23,300 weekly claims for federal assistance.

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