Washington unemployment check fraud case expands to nearly $1 billion


Sen. Ann Rivers briefed Wednesday by the Employment Security Department

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Lacamas Magazine. It is published here with permission from and full attribution to Lacamas Magazine (www.LacamasMagazine.com) and Editor Ernie Geigenmiller.

According to Senator Ann Rivers (18th Legislative District), whose office was briefed Wednesday by the Employment Security Department (ESD), the unemployment check fraud case is now approaching $1 billion in lost state funds.

Washington state capitol building.
Washington state capitol building.

Originally, the suspected fraud loss was $350 million.

“The ESD fraud case is beyond anything originally suspected,” said Rivers. “Nearly $1 billion has been lost to Nigeria and other fraudsters.”

Rivers said the people of Washington have been subject to a series of data breaches over the last several years, which includes Zappos, Premera Blue Cross, and Equifax. This past year, Rivers was the Senate Republican lead on the Data Privacy Bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate, but was blocked in the House.

Sen. Ann Rivers
Sen. Ann Rivers

“I knew this was going to be a problem,” said Rivers. “The partisan breakdown in the House is what killed this bill. I worked it very hard. I knew we had to act, and this is unfortunate.”

The bill would have locked down the state’s consumer data to prevent hacking, requiring two-factor authentication, among other security measures.

“The hackers have been waiting for the right moment to attack an underprepared Employment Security Division,” said Rivers. “COVID gave them that opportunity. My office was overwhelmed with calls of people needing help filing unemployment.”

Rivers was notified Wednesday by ESD officials that each caucus can help only 20 people per week. 

“I was able to get in and help people get the unemployment benefits they deserve, and I was told by ESD I can only help one person a week,” Rivers said. “This is ludicrous. Period. That’s like saying to a mother with five children on the Titanic she now must choose her favorite child.”

Rivers said the state needs to act.

“It’s not enough to label the problem, we need to change the leadership to right this ship,” said Rivers. “Families desperately need this money and they’re not getting it.”

Suzie LaVine is the current ESD Director. 

Rivers is pushing for a special legislative session in June, and that the Republican caucus will demand LaVine’s termination. 

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