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Louisiana officials investigating thousands of possibly fraudulent unemployment claims

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Workforce Commission is attributing a recent spike in claims for unemployment benefits to fraud.

Officials say more than 32,000 claims have been filed over the past two weeks, many of which are being “rigorously reviewed for validity.” The LWC says it has identified more than 160,000 potentially fraudulent claims this year amid a recent nationwide surge in unemployment benefits fraud.

“We monitor and review our systems on a daily basis as people committing the fraud constantly change their methods,” LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said. “We work diligently with our security team and federal and state law enforcement to stay ahead of the fraud schemes.”

To maintain the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and federal CARES Act Funding, the LWC says it has halted all payments on new claims filed on or after Nov. 5. New claimants will receive an email requesting further identity verification.

Dejoie urged residents not to give out personal private information, such as their username, password or full social security number, to avoid identity theft. People can report suspected fraud at the LWC’s website, www.laworks.net.

Economists credit expanded unemployment benefits programs for helping to stabilize the nation’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Louisiana alone has paid out close to $7 billion in state and federal benefits.

But those same programs have been ripe targets for abuse. California prosecutors on Tuesday said they had uncovered a massive scheme to steal hundreds of millions of dollars using the identities of prison inmates.

Federal officials reported 43,618 new claims for state unemployment benefits and 39,565 claims for federally funded pandemic unemployment assistance in Louisiana for the week ending Nov. 14. For the following week, those numbers dropped to 9,320 and 9,697 respectively.

Following U.S. Department of Labor guidance, the LWC has amended the claims data until further analysis can be completed on what officials consider suspicious claims.

David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business, and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.