Baker says ‘vast majority’ of unemployment claims checked so far not fraudulent

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LOWELL MA. – MAY 28: Mass Gov Charlie Baker gives his daily press conference at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub on May 28, 2020 in Lowell, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Gov. Charlie Baker said the “vast majority” of Massachusetts unemployment claims checked so far are legitimate — amid concerns over a national fraud scheme to bilk states out of benefit dollars.

The state temporarily withheld benefit payments to about 150,000 claimants this week, but Baker said the majority of those checks have now made their way into the pockets of Massachusetts’ jobless.

“The vast majority of those (payments) went out once we ran the tests and determined they were in fact legitimate,” Baker said Thursday during a visit to UMass Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center.

For those still awaiting payment, Baker said people “shouldn’t be alarmed” and that payments for all legitimate claims will be processed.

Baker said it was “critically important” for the state to quickly investigate any potential benefits fraud.

“There’s a large nationwide scam going on here, we need to do everything we can, as quickly as we can to make sure that we’re not paying money out to criminals and that we’re paying money out to people who are in fact legitimately eligible for the benefit,” he said.

The state delayed the payments after federal authorities tipped the Department of Unemployment Assistance off about organized crime rings that used personal information stolen in earlier data breaches to file “large amounts” of illegitimate unemployment claims in other states.

Baker said about 150,000 unemployment claims were run through a third-party data check and that “somewhere in the vicinity of 145,000 of those claims passed.”

The other 5,000 or so will go through additional levels of review to root out any fraudulent claims.

It’s unclear how much — if any — of the $2.3 billion in benefits Massachusetts has paid out between mid-March and April 30 has gone into scammers’ pockets, but the DUA has said an investigation is ongoing.

Anyone who believes their identity was used to file a false unemployment claim is urged to report it online at mass.gov/unemployment-fraud or to call the DUA customer service department at 877-626-6800.

The facility in Lowell where Baker spoke on Thursday has been screening lifesaving personal protective equipment for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It’s the latest facility of its kind the governor has highlighted after revamping its typical production lines to help ramp up the state’s supply of PPE.