PHOENIX — For the past year the Let Joe Know team - in part with The Rebound Arizona - has been asking state leaders why Arizonans are being forced to wait so long for unemployment benefits and what is being done to stop fraudulent claims.
ABC15 first reported in July 2020 that hundreds of debit cards were being sent to people who never applied for benefits. The state responded by saying it was an automated process that allowed them to be sent and that it was quickly fixed.
Now, the company brought in to address the fraud says it was a faulty system from the start.
"Fraud should be in the low single-digit percentages and many large states - similar to areas like Arizona - it's 26%," said Blake Hall, the Co-Founder and CEO of ID.me.
The Department of Economic Security hoped ID.me's verification process would cut down on fraud and speed up claims.
Hall contacted us after our story about Christy, who says when her unemployment benefits stopped, the ID.me process made things more complicated.
"You have a picture in there. All kinds of things to say, this is who I am, I am not a fraud. But that wasn't enough, because now you have to go through the ID.me system, which you can't get into," said Christy.
Since ID.me was implemented back in October, they say they've stopped thousands of dollars from falling into the wrong hands; however, Christy and other viewers say the system is also stopping people who qualify from getting benefits.
MaryAnn says she got the email to verify her identity but ran into problems uploading her driver's license. She says she couldn't get through to customer support.
Flitwayne writes he tried for days to verify who he was and hours on the phone trying to get help. He says he ran into several errors on the ID.me site in the process.
Sharon shares she was able to make it through the ID.me process, but still got messages saying her DES account was not verified.
"Once you're verified and have an account, you never have to re-verify again. That's the whole nature of our service," said Hall.
Hall says people have tried fooling their selfie requirement with video replay and masks. Adding things like expired driver's licenses, documentation problems, and trying to verify through wrong links cause some issues. He says no matter the case, the long delays are not their fault, they are working through millions of claims on any given day.
"So what led to like long wait times, you know, isn't a function of like our staffing or technology, it's literally that there's six or seven months worth of claimants who have like two weeks to verify," said Hall.
So, the question remains - why do some Arizonans say they still can't get their benefits after verifying their ID?
In a statement to us, DES says they're working with ID.me "to look into the specific instances where individuals have had difficulty verifying documents." DES says ID.me helped cut down fraud claims and sped up the process saying they now have 460 Unemployment Insurance claims and 1543 PUA claims waiting longer than 21 days.
Here's their full statement:
Like most states, Arizona saw a surge of fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment claims in the spring of 2020 and then again in late summer 2020 as we became the first, and for several weeks, the only state in the nation paying Lost Wages Assistance enhanced benefits. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating unemployment fraud by “transnational criminal organizations, sophisticated domestic actors, and individuals across the United States.” Prior to the pandemic, an average of 800 reports were received per month by the DES Office of the Inspector General (OIG). In comparison, nearly 95,000 cases of fraud have been reported since March 1, 2020; skyrocketing the monthly average tenfold to more than 8,600.
Since October 12, 2020, DES has been using an identity verification process through ID.me for initial PUA claims to help identify fraudulent claimants and ensure legitimate PUA claimants receive benefits in a secure and timely manner. As a result, there has been a significant decrease in suspected fraudulent initial claims.
On December 4, 2020, DES expanded the utilization for the ID.me identity verification to the entire PUA population who continue to file weekly certifications for benefits. This requirement allows DES to provide PUA benefits to legitimate claimants faster, to further ferret out fraud among the millions of fraudulent PUA claims we have received, and to prevent additional fraudulent weekly certifications. Based on multiple assessments, we expect to prevent over $15 million in fraudulent benefit payments each week by implementing this step at current benefit levels.
Fraud detection measures and identity verification through ID.me have helped to combat fraud within Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and we added identity verification to the UI system when it became clear that fraud was rising within this program. This work has both significantly reduced the number of fraudulent claims received and allowed us to identify individuals with unique circumstances that need an eligibility disposition on their claim, ensuring more timely delivery of benefits, achieving the two primary objectives of our partnership with ID.me. There are 460 regular UI claims and 1,543 PUA claims greater than 21 days old awaiting adjudication. As we continue to process the claims held for suspected fraud, claims filed earlier in the year may enter the queue for adjudication.
The identity verification service provided by ID.me is priced based on successful verification, and our engagement with ID.me is dependent on the number of verifications we require. Pricing includes project support and Trusted Referee services to ensure claimants have the support needed to appropriately verify their identity if they are unable to complete the verification using the self-service platform online. Individuals who are unable to successfully verify their identity through ID.me are not factored into the cost. This provides an incentive for ID.me to provide as much support as possible to verify the identities of eligible claimants.
The Department continues to work with ID.me to look into specific instances where individuals have had difficulty verifying their documents after uploading them into the system. We also know that a large portion of the individuals who can’t complete verification are individuals who were attempting to access benefits fraudulently and use illegally obtained information to continue to file fraudulent benefits. We continue to work tirelessly to issue benefits quickly to eligible claimants with as few disruptions as possible. ID.me has been a great partner to DES throughout the implementation of identity verification in Arizona. They have been quick to respond to issues, improve services when possible and continue to support us in preventing further attacks on Arizona’s unemployment programs.
Hall reached out saying he wants to help Christy get through the system and is offering the same help to anyone with similar problems.
"If we can't help them, we'll make sure that they get escalated to DES in a way that they can actually get verified and go through," said Hall.
As for how much the state paid ID.me for their services, DES says it is "based on successful verification" and it depends on "the number of verifications [they] require." They say project support is included and people who can't verify their identities are not part of the cost.
If you have similar issues, let us know - email us at Rebound@abc15.com