Question: I got a letter in the mail telling me to “submit additional information for your Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim” or my eligibility would be affected. But I never filed a PUA claim. This letter looks real — state letterhead, prepaid mass postage, etc. Do you know what’s going on?
Answer: Yes, you’ve received a genuine letter from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations designed to root out fraud in Hawaii’s PUA system, the federally funded program that pays unemployment benefits to people, such as the self-employed, who don’t qualify for standard unemployment insurance.
You are one of several readers who has asked Kokua Line about these letters. How a recipient should respond depends on whether they filed a PUA claim or whether, like you, an imposter claim has been filed in their name. Here are basic instructions, from DLIR:
>> If you filed the PUA claim: Log into your PUA account at pua.hawaii.gov. Click on the link to respond to fact-finding. You may be asked to upload more information to verify your identity, which could include a copy of your Social Security card, birth certificate or photo identification. Or you may be asked to update your address or phone number, which you can do in your online account.
>> If you didn’t file the PUA claim: Go to the same website (pua.hawaii.gov) to report apparent fraud. Click on the link that says, “Use a Letter ID to Report Identity Theft.” You’ll find it under the “Check Application” icon. Enter the Letter ID and the Account ID from the letter you received; it should be listed in the top right portion. To be clear, anyone who filed a legitimate claim and wants to continue to receive benefits should not submit this form.
To answer another reader’s question, yes, this letter is going out to some PUA claimants who are already receiving benefits. The additional information must be provided by the letter’s stated deadline to avoid losing benefits.
As Kokua Line has reported (808ne.ws/531kline), Hawaii’s DLIR has stepped up its anti- fraud efforts since being alerted by the U.S. Secret Service that an international cybercrime ring is targeting state unemployment systems. Thieves submit fraudulent claims using identities (names, dates of birth, addresses and Social Security numbers) stolen in earlier data breaches (such as the Equifax breach of 2017). Often the thieves direct unemployment benefits to be deposited to a debit card. Each instance of fraud could go undetected for weeks or longer, the cybersecurity firm Agari explained in a recent post on its website, 808ne.ws/agariinfo.
Washington state’s unemployment system was especially hard-hit, paying up to $650 million in false claims and retrieving only $333 million of that money, according to the Seattle Times, 808ne.ws/wasty.
Kokua Line has repeatedly asked the DLIR how much money Hawaii may have lost, but as of Tuesday DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman said he did not have that information. He said that the scope of the fraud remains under investigation and that he did not know when estimates would be released.
Therefore, Kokua Line can confirm only anecdotal reports, having heard directly from a few readers whose identities were used to file false claims in the standard Unemployment Insurance system (to which Hawaii employers contribute) and now from other readers whose names were misused to file claims in the PUA program, which is funded at the federal level.
Q: Did this letter go out to all PUA claimants in Hawaii?
A: No. “It was a letter to a substantial amount of the claimants as part of the effort to detect fraud,” Kunstman said.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.