Investigators, auditors shine light on cheaters

Cheaters, beware. The Employment Security Department is on your tail.

Cheaters, beware. The Employment Security Department is on your tail.

In 2009, Employment Security investigators detected more than $10 million in unemployment benefits that individuals acquired through fraud. Department auditors also discovered 7,671 workers whom employers had failed to report – which amounted to nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes.

“We’re a fraud-fighting machine,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee. “When employers work their employees ‘off the books’ and fail to pay their unemployment-insurance premiums, those employees can’t get unemployment benefits if they’re laid off.”

She added that detecting fraud by people claiming unemployment benefits also is important, so the benefits are protected for those who qualify.

Auditing employers helps to maintain a level playing field for businesses that are reporting properly and operating by the rules.

According to Annette Taylor, chief investigative officer for Employment Security, her office has expanded its efforts to cross-match Social Security numbers with other state agencies, which has proved extremely effective in detecting fraud.

In one 2009 example, cross-matching an unemployment-insurance claimant’s information with Department of Corrections data revealed the claimant was sitting in a prison cell. To be eligible for benefits, the person must be able and available for work – which is impossible for someone sitting in a jail cell.

After interviewing the prisoner, investigators determined that his wife was illegally claiming and collecting benefits on his behalf.

“It sounds crazy, but this type of thing is not that uncommon,” Taylor said. “It’s a sign of the times. Some people are desperate and willing to take chances, and that’s why it’s so important for us to do our job well.”

Report fraud

You can report unemployment benefits or tax fraud by calling 866-810-0210. An online form also is available at www.esd.wa.gov; type “fraud” in the search box to find the fraud-report form.

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