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Colorado AG, labor officials announce task force to combat unemployment fraud

AG Weiser announced a new task force aimed at investigating and prosecuting those who have committed identity theft.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Labor & Employment (CDLE) and Attorney General Phil Weiser announced a new statewide task force Thursday aimed at investigating and prosecuting those who have committed fraud against the state of Colorado and the unemployment insurance system.

The state's unemployment filing system, UI+, has been beset by fraudulent claims for months. As of early February, CDLE said it paid more than $6 million to scammers since the pandemic began.

"With the task force dedicated to prosecution, we can continue to focus on helping the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who are legitimately eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits,"  CDLE Executive Director Joseph Barela said. 

Criminals in Colorado and across the country have targeted state unemployment programs and federal extended benefit programs using stolen identities to file fraudulent claims, CDLE said.

CDLE reported, that as of February, 1.1 million fraudulent claims had been filed since the pandemic began, compared to 1,043,760 legitimate claims that were filed and processed.  

"This unprecedented amount of fraud and theft requires a coordinated and comprehensive statewide response so that wrongdoers can be identified and held accountable,” Weiser said.

CDLE has tripled the size of its criminal investigation team since the start of the pandemic, with another round of hiring currently underway. Under the current task force plan, district attorneys will partner with the attorney general to review, charge and prosecute fraud and identity theft cases.

The task force plans to hold its first meeting in the coming days to review the status of the investigations and to begin the staffing of potential cases for eventual prosecution. 

>Watch the full Thursday press conference with AG Weiser and CDLE below. 

What you should do if you suspect unemployment fraud

CDLE said if you've received debit cards, tax forms indicating you've received claim or have been notified a claim has been filed in your name, you can file a report here.

Consumers can also learn how to protect themselves from identity theft and download the Identity Theft Repair Kit at StopFraudColorado.gov.

RELATED: Q&A: Questions about unemployment money and taxes — answered

Latest Colorado unemployment data

CDLE estimated 13,034 new regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims were filed the week end Feb. 27th after adjusting for fraud, and $27.3 million in benefits were paid out.

There were also 9,916 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims filed, a number which now includes new and reopened claims from the Phase 2 rollout.

For the week ending Feb. 20, CDLRE reports 75,165 continued regular UI claims were filed, 92,935 continued PUA claims were filed, and 114,986 continued Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims were filed for a total of 282,986 continued claims.

RELATED: US jobless claims tick up to 745,000 as layoffs remain high

Unemployment benefits paid in Colorado since March 29, 2020:

  • Regular UI: $2.72 Billion
  • PUA (gig workers/self-employed): $1.16 Billion
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation ($300/weekly UI benefits to eligible claimants): $2.93 Billion
  • PEUC (extends unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks): $548.1 Million
  • State Extended Benefits (extends unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks): $30.5 Million
  • Lost Wages Assistance ($300/weekly UI benefits to eligible claimants, fall 2020): $389.2 Million

  • Total: $7.78 Billion

Note: The benefits listed for federal programs are from the Continued Assistance Act, which may be different from the CARES Act that expired on Dec. 27.

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RELATED: Colorado labor officials: $254 million in unemployment benefits paid since Phase 2 rollout

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