May 28, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 28, 2020
Claims for Unemployment Compensation, Week Ending May 23
AUGUSTA - For the week ending May 23, the Maine Department of Labor recorded 16,500 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and an additional 20,500 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These claims represent about 24,500 individuals filing an initial claim.
About 137,700 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment. In addition, about 135,600 weekly certifications were filed under PUA, including for retroactive benefit weeks. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.
These initial claims and weekly certifications for state and federal benefits are a sharp and suspicious increase from recent trends. The Maine Department of Labor suspects a significant number of these claims and certifications may be linked to criminal unemployment imposter fraud, which is victimizing many U.S. states during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Imposter fraud is when a person's Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate and prevent it.
"We believe these higher numbers are evidence of the organized crime of unemployment imposter fraud, which many states are experiencing," Commissioner Laura Fortman said. The Department of Labor is committed to maintaining the integrity of Maines unemployment system and, alongside our partners, fighting fraud and defending innocent Maine people from scammers trying to exploit them.
As part of its effort to investigate, prevent, and stop fraud, the Maine Department of Labor has received some 1,000 reports of potential unemployment imposter fraud that are now under investigation.
The Department expects the number of reported claims linked to imposter fraud to increase as the investigation continues. To date, the Department has identified and cancelled some 2,200 unemployment claims determined to be fraudulent.
In Maine, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and U.S. Secret Service are spearheading the Federal investigative effort of imposter fraud. The Maine Department of Labor is working with the U.S. Attorneys Office, the Maine Attorney Generals Office, Maine State Police, Maine State Treasurer, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI to investigate and stop the fraudulent unemployment claims.
An amount paid to potentially fraudulent claims made in Maine remains under investigation and is not yet available. Based on the experience of other states, illegal benefit payments made to fraudulent claims could total in the millions.
The Department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employees personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft/ .
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) lists resources on their website at https://www.maine.gov/ag/privacy/identity_theft.shtml, to assist consumers with protecting themselves against identity theft and fraud. Individuals can also contact the Consumer Protection Division of the OAG at 1-800-436-2131 or via email at Consumer.Mediation@maine.gov.
Victims of identity theft and fraud will not have to repay unemployment benefits that were illegally applied for using their stolen information. Additionally, if a victim later needs to apply for unemployment benefits, they will still be able to do so.
The Department of Labor has taken a series of steps to investigate and prevent fraud and further enhance security of Maines unemployment system. The Department is:
- Temporarily pausing benefits for 48 hours this week to allow the Department to remove suspected fraudulent claims;
- Reinstating its normal 10-14 day processing time for initial unemployment claims, which had been expedited in response to the unprecedented demands of COVID-19;
- Joining a state and federal task force to detect and prevent fraud;
- Coordinating with financial institutions to identify suspicious accounts;
- Reviewing system changes needed to increase fraud detection; and
- Blocking web addresses linked to fraud in Maine and in other states.
Data on initial and continued claims, benefits paid, contributions received, the balance of the unemployment insurance trust fund, as well as other information, is available at https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/ui.html .
If you have not yet applied, you can do so at www.maine.gov/unemployment/ . Click on the ReEmployME icon in the bottom left of the page. You will be prompted to create a claimant account, after which you can submit an unemployment claim and file your weekly certifications. Dont forget to verify your email address and sign up for direct deposit. There is no separate application for PUA. The application process will make the determination of whether you are eligible for state or PUA benefits based on your answers to questions. PUA benefits are available to anyone who is self-employed and does not receive W2 wages, regardless of the profitability of your business.
The Department of Labor recommends filing your claims online with a computer, as opposed to a smartphone, and during evening hours when internet traffic is less congested. The Department has implemented an alphabetical call in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion as the Department ramps up its capacity to receive and process claims. Last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday, I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.
Phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and may be reached at 1-800-593-7660. Roughly 1,800 calls are answered per day. Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative should submit a message at www.maine.gov/labor/contact/ .
For more information and resources, visit the Departments COVID-19 page: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/
Follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and Twitter @maine_labor.