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Fraudulent unemployment claims in RI hit $70 million during pandemic

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More than $70 million in claims for unemployment benefits in Rhode Island were deemed fraudulent since the pandemic began, according to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.

That is up from nearly $38 million in March when Target 12 last examined the crisis.

“I think at some points, almost all the claims that were coming in were fraudulent,” said Matt Weldon, director of the DLT. “Right now, we’re dealing with people every single week who are trying to file claims fraudulently.”

Weldon said the vast majority of benefits went to people who truly needed it, with the state paying out $3.7 billion in total unemployment insurance since the pandemic began.

But he also said partnerships with law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Labor have helped identify fraudulent claims.

“The ​likelihood of them going through is far less than it was before because of the different mechanisms we have in place,” Weldon said.

Federal unemployment benefits ending in September was key, he said, because the majority of fraud occurred through federal claims.

“During the pandemic, we wanted to get benefits out quick, and we were encouraged to do so by the federal government,” Weldon said. “And Rhode Island led the country in getting benefits out quick.”

Weldon said that since those federal benefits ended, the DLT has instituted a week-long waiting period for all unemployment claims, requiring people to prove their identities.

“The good work that we’ve done has positioned us well to protect taxpayers going forward,” he said.

The U.S. Secret Service, which specializes in fraud investigations in addition to protecting the president, said Tuesday that close to $100 billion dollars have been stolen from COVID-19 relief programs nationwide, which amounts to roughly 3% of the total dollars dispersed since March 2020.

They said most of that $100 billion comes from unemployment fraud.

The Associated Press and Tim White contributed to this report.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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