Just when you thought the world has reached a level of peak absurdity, the Nigerian scheme makes a grand reappearance.
Washington state officials admitted losing “hundreds of millions of dollars” to an international fraud scheme, originating out of Nigeria, that robbed the state’s unemployment insurance system and could mean even longer delays for thousands of jobless workers still waiting for legitimate benefits.
As the Seattle Times reported, Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the state Employment Security Department (ESD), disclosed the staggering losses during a news conference Thursday afternoon. LeVine declined to specify how much money was stolen during the scam, which she said appears to be orchestrated out of Nigeria but she conceded that the amount was “orders of magnitude above” the $1.6 million that ESD reported losing to fraudsters in April.
While LeVine said state and law enforcement officials were working to recover as much of the stolen money as possible, she declined to say how much had been returned so far. She also said the ESD had taken “a number of steps” to prevent new fraudulent claims from being filed or paid but would not specify the steps to avoid alerting criminals.
Thursday’s disclosure helped explain the unusual surge in the number of new jobless claims filed last week in Washington, which as we showed this morning was the state with the highest weekly increase in claims.
On Wednesday, the state’s monthly employment report for April showed Washington with a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 15.4%, up from 5.1% in March. The national unemployment rate for April stood at 14.7%, seasonally adjusted.
For the week ending May 16, the ESD received 138,733 initial claims for unemployment insurance, a 26.8% increase over the prior week and one of the biggest weekly surges since the coronavirus crisis began. That sharp increase came as the number of initial jobless claims nationwide fell 9.2%, to 2.4 million, according to data released earlier in the day by the Labor Department.
Indeed, the surge in claims made Washington the state with the highest percentage of its civilian labor force filing unemployment claims – at 30.8%, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank. Nevada, the next-highest state, reported claims from 24.5% of its civilian workforce.
It now appears that many of those claims were fictitious and emanated from some computer in Nigeria.