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Where there’s money to be had, fraud won’t be far behind.

As of May 22, more than 250 fraudulent unemployment claims have been made on the behalf of Central Washington University employees, with that number spiking sharply in the last two weeks.

CWU’s executive director of human resources Staci Sleigh-Layman said while it is an unfortunate situation, her best advice is to be vigilant and take initiative if you receive a letter from the Washington Employment Security Department stating that you’ve applied for unemployment benefits.

Since Central is a smaller institution, Sleigh-Layman said her department has been able to contact each employee directly when they see a claim has been made in their name. Since CWU hasn’t furloughed any employees due to COVID-19 yet, she said claims that come through to this point are likely fraudulent.

“We contact employment security and let them know we’ve received a fraudulent claim, and then when we call the employee, we encourage them to do the same,” Sleigh-Layman said.

Another precaution people can take is to visit esd.wa.gov/unemployment and open an account with their Social Security number. When an account is linked to a Social Security number, another fraudulent account cannot be created.

“Then you can go in frequently and check to see if there has been any claims filed for you, and so if you were to see that another claim was filed you could (contact) them right away,” Sleigh-Layman said.

As to where the fraudsters are accessing Social Security numbers, Sleigh-Layman said neither the Employment Security Department nor Central Washington University has been breached, and it’s likely those with the personal information acquired it in an earlier breach and have been sitting on it for a while.

“It’s just the nature of $2.2 trillion going into this bank of unemployment and people knowing that there is money there to get,” she said.

Sleigh-Layman is in frequent contact with other four-year institutions around Washington, and said Western Washington University had 500 fraudulent claims before CWU had even one. When they first started to trickle in for Central, she said high-salary officials in the president’s office seemed to be targeted first, but now the number has reached 259, there doesn’t seem to be any pattern with regards to salary or department.

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