The state’s beleaguered Department of Unemployment Assistance is launching new security measures to protect against fraud and speed up the identity verification process.
DUA has contracted with the vendor ID.me, which provides mobile-friendly identity verification that the department says will help weed out illegitimate claims and make payments to unemployed workers more quickly. ID.me will be used for those seeking traditional unemployment insurance, not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, that goes to gig workers and the self-employed.
DUA will roll out the new system Friday for claimants already dealing with identity verification issues and introduce the process to new claimants in the coming weeks. For those who are cleared, DUA said, payments will be made within a few days.
To reduce the risk of fraud or cybersecurity attacks, DUA is also implementing multi-factor authentication measures that require unemployment claimants to provide an additional form of verification, usually a code sent to a person’s email or cellphone, that must then be entered to access the online system.
Massachusetts was one of the states hit the hardest by fraud due to its high benefit payouts, which has created huge delays as officials work to verify the identities of filers. Between April and January, DUA issued $687 million in payments that were either confirmed or potentially fraudulent, recovered $252 million, and prevented $19.2 billion worth of fraudulent payments from being disbursed.
With the state’s already overtaxed, underperforming unemployment system being hammered by fraud, some workers have gone months without benefits.
The situation got worse in late December, after unemployment benefits lapsed the day before then-president Donald Trump signed a bill extending them. The bill included new programs and employment verifications that states had to implement immediately, often using antiquated systems. These additional hurdles have added to the raft of legitimate claims being denied or delayed or cut off, with little notice or help from the DUA. Some people are even erroneously being told they have to pay back what they have already received.
As of early February, more than 605,000 people had continuing unemployment claims in Massachusetts.