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Arizona officials on Friday said that a new round of fraudulent unemployment claims is bogging down the state department that handles that work, and they are asking the public’s help to report the crimes.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security is asking people who receive unemployment debit cards addressed to other people, or who are mailed cards in their names that they did not apply for, to report the potential fraud.

Fraudulent claims can be reported online at ​http://bit.ly/ReportAZUIFraud​ or by calling 1-800-251-2436.

DES asks that people include the full name listed on the documents, the address where they were received and the Social Security number of the person if they are in the resident’s name. People receiving these cards should destroy them, DES said.

“Once DES is able to locate the fraudulent claim, we can take appropriate action and do not need the card returned,” the department said.

For those who have had applications submitted in their name, DES recommends going online to the Federal Trade Commission website, https://identitytheft.gov, to report the potential identity theft and protect themselves from possible further victimization.

DES says these people also should monitor their credit report to ensure their identity has not been compromised in other ways.

DES has paid more than $11.4 billion in regular unemployment and “pandemic unemployment assistance” benefits since the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation in March, with more than 1.6 million people receiving benefits.

PUA is a benefit set up by Congress to help people who were self-employed or otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for regular unemployment during the pandemic. In the last two weeks alone, Arizona has received more than 660,000 PUA applications, “indicating a high number of fraudulent claims being filed,” the department said Friday.

Arizona may have paid $500M in fraudulent claims

Officials have said that as much as $500 million in fraudulent claims might have been paid this year by the state, though the figure is not known and is only an estimate based on the number of illegitimate claims identified.

To avoid making fraudulent payments, DES is working with local and national law enforcement, and has taken actions such as suspending payments on some claims and even closing bank accounts set up by the department for claimants that DES later determined likely to be fraudulent.

The DES Office of Inspector General also launched a new task force to combat fraud, in addition to the cooperation with law enforcement the office already had, including with the Secret Service and FBI.

“The task force will identify suspects and co-conspirators perpetrating fraud schemes, investigate the network of criminals behind the fraudulent claims and work to prosecute these criminals,” DES said. “The formation of the task force will combine a wide array of resources and law enforcement experience to combat the increase in illegal activity.”

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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