PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) -- The Arizona Department of Economic Security is investigating 3.4 million potentially fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, marking a massive spike in suspected fraud in the past month, 3 On Your Side has learned.
According to Tasya Peterson, the press secretary for DES, fraudsters have inundated the agency with 1.6 million claims within the last month. Though millions of claims are being held, suspected of fraud, some are legitimate, and claimants are being asked to verify their identities through ID.me.
This new service with ID.me and DES starts the week of October 12 so that Arizonans can access their benefits in a timely manner including claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
"We have been able to release payment on tens of thousands of these claims, and the remaining claims being held have the highest likelihood of being fraudulent," Peterson said.
In a briefing with reporters in September, DES Director Michael Wisehart said Arizona has likely paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent benefits since the pandemic began. The agency said it was not able to provide an updated estimate for this report.
DES has been involved in 13 investigations that have led to arrests nationwide, including three in Arizona. The agency is partnering with federal and local law enforcement, but did not provide specifics about the arrests.
In addition to the 3.4 million PUA claims that are being held for fraud, DES is also working through a backlog of 2,200 regular unemployment insurance claims that have been pending for more than 21 days.
"These claims have complex circumstances that must be worked through in order to ensure proper benefit amounts are paid and avoid overpayments to the claimants," Peterson said. "We are working urgently to get this backlog cleared as accurately and as quickly as possible."