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School districts in Washington are seeing fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits

More than 800,000 people in Washington have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

There also have been some fraudulent claims submitted. Some school district employees, including in the Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue districts, have discovered that fraudulent claims were filed in their names.

The Puget Sound Educational Service District administers an unemployment pool for 21 school districts and has seen a handful of illegitimate claims submitted to the state recently.

“Unemployment fraud incidents are generally very low in our unemployment pool, so we usually have around maybe one every year or every other year,” said Jessica de Barros, a spokeswoman for the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

This year, the agency’s member districts have had about five reports of fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, she said.

“What we’re suggesting to our districts and our clients is that the employee files a report that says, 'Suspected fraud, I didn’t file for this,’ and then the school district itself also submits a statement as well,” said Bradley Jones, claims attorney for the Puget Sound Educational Service District’s unemployment pool.

Jones said there's no evidence that a security breach led to the fraudulent claims.

The Seattle school district has emailed employees advising that if this happens to them, they should file a police report. They should also report the incident to the state Employment Security Department and on the Federal Trade Commission’s website,

Clare DeLong, communications director for the Washington Employment Security Department, said in an email that the department has seen "substantial growth in the absolute number of fraud investigations."

Department staff are examining the data to better understand whether the growth is proportional to the "unprecented growth" in claims overall and how many of the fraud flags are from actual bad actors or simply entry errors by people who are new to the system, she said.

The department is adding staff in its Special Investigations unit to address the increase, she said. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.