ALBANY — The state Department of Labor said Thursday it has blocked more than 42,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic reached New York.
The fraudulent claims would have netted more than $1 billion, the department said, adding that it has referred more unemployment fraud cases to federal prosecutors in these past five months than in the previous ten years combined.
The partial economic shutdown imposed in mid-March by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help halt the spread of the virus threw millions of New Yorkers out of work.
From March 8 through Aug. 8, the department said, 3,423,876 initial unemployment claims were submitted statewide. This was 941 percent more than the 328,929 claims submitted in the same period of 2019.
State officials decried the equally huge jump in fraudulent claims.
“Unfortunately, we have to fight unemployment fraud every day — not just during pandemics — but attempting to defraud the government during a global public health emergency when millions are filing legitimate claims for benefits is particularly shameful,” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a news release.
The Department of Labor said the fraudsters typically use the personal information of real New Yorkers stolen during previous data breaches, and typically target those who are employed rather than unemployed, so that there is not already an active claim that would prevent a fraudulent claim from going through under the same name.
The department is using artificial intelligence and other high-tech tools to detect and prevent such fraud.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers continue to file initial claims for unemployment insurance, though at a far lower rate than in March and April, as much of the economy has been reopened.
For the week ending Aug. 8, 52,642 claims were submitted statewide, which was 327 percent more than the same week in 2019.
In the Capital Region, 136,435 claims were submitted from March 8 to Aug. 8, an 861 percent increase from the same period in 2019. The neighboring Mohawk Valley, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, saw 61,716 claims submitted during that period of 2020, a 647 percent increase.