A consulting firm hired by the state Department of Labor & Industry has begun contacting applicants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to verify their identities — it is an effort undertaken to separate legitimate claims from the many fraudulent ones made to PUA, according to L&I officials on a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.
The officials urged applicants not to seek out the consulting firm’s website, but rather to wait until “invited” via their individual L&I “dashboards” to interact with the firm, to avoid accidentally giving identity information to a fraudster website or becoming a phishing victim.
Only new applicants for PUA need to have their identities verified by the consultant, ID.me, according to officials.
Applicants have the option to answer personal questions or to provide documentation like a state ID or passport, according to Susan Dickinson, director of unemployment compensation benefits policy.
Applicants can also use an on-camera interview with a “trusted referee” after uploading documentation, according to Dickinson.
Unsuccessful attempts at identity verification can occur because applicants have recently moved, their credit reports are locked or frozen, their credit profiles contain erroneous information, they have already verified their identity with the consultant, their submissions contain typos or other errors, their submitted documents were expired, their photos were “unreadable” or their phone numbers weren’t “associated” with their names or addresses, according to the ID.me website.
After ID.me turns over verification information to L&I, a notice of successful verification will appear on applicants’ dashboards and the department releases the funding quickly — unless there is some other problem, according to Labor Secretary Jerry Oleksiak and Dickinson.
Identity is often not the only issue, Dickinson said.
Because of the large number of fraudulent PUA claims, it has been difficult to tell what percentage of legitimate ones have been processed so far, according to Dickinson.
As of Tuesday, there was only one day’s worth of ID.me data available, she said.
As the company’s work proceeds, and as legitimate applicants get processed and fraudulent applicants withdraw, a better picture will emerge, she predicted.
PUA, which is a federal program created during the pandemic to enable self-employed workers who lost wages due to COVID-19, is slated to expire at the end of the year, according to Oleksiak.
He doesn’t know whether it would be renewed.
“There are too many variables to predict,” he said, citing the election that has consumed the attention of lawmakers. “(But) we would love to see things extended.”
The department is still taking applications for Lost Wages Assistance, which provides up to $300 a week for pay lost due to COVID-19 during the period between the week ending Aug. 1 and the week ending Sept. 5, Oleksiak said.
The department will be making payments for that period for the foreseeable future, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.
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