PHOENIX - The fraud in Arizona's unemployment system is seemingly far more widespread than originally thought according to state officials who say they’ve flagged hundreds of thousands of claims as potential fraud.
As a result, real claimants have had to wait longer to get much-needed funds released to their bank accounts from the Department of Economic Security (DES) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After weeks of unemployment, an Arizona woman named Leslie woke up to find her money was being withheld. "It was just blank. It said zeros," she said.
She, like many others, had payments stopped because she believes DES confused her account for fraud. She believes it’s because of an issue with her last name.
"Nobody likes fraud. Nobody likes anyone that commits fraud, but why punish the people that aren’t committing the fraud for the people that are committing fraud," she said.
In the last several weeks, DES has continued to report increases in suspected fraudulent claims. It was a few dozen in June, but as of July 19, DES says as claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance continue to rise and they've now flagged hundreds of thousands of claims for potential fraud.
Many said their accounts have been incorrectly closed and have appealed to get thousands of dollars returned.
A DES spokesperson says they try to limit incorrect closures, saying, "We have made significant progress in identifying case types and patterns to release payments to those claims that were filed to eligible unemployed individuals in need of this critical assistance."
He confirms 30,000 more people are still waiting for just initial approval for regular unemployment. A third of those have waited more than a month.
Leslie is hopeful her issue gets cleared up soon so she can get help from an account she’s paid in to. "Arizona’s in a lot of trouble and there’s no help and unless Arizonans get some help our wonderful state is just going to implode," she said.