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Cheats being exposed

Investigators identified nearly 7,000 people last year in Washington state who lied, cheated, scammed and schemed in order to collect unemployment benefits.

This small minority of claimants collected more than $14 million in unemployment benefits through fraud - about 56 percent more than in 2009.

"It's not completely clear whether there is more fraud, or we're just getting better at uncovering it," said Annette Taylor, chief investigative officer for Employment Security. "Probably a little of both."

Employment Security's investigative team has expanded and improved its efforts to cross-match records with other state agencies, a strategy that is paying dividends, Taylor said.

The cheaters will have to pay back the money and face additional penalties, ranging from fines to potential jail time. In 2010, Employment Security recovered nearly $11 million in benefits acquired fraudulently.

"We actively go after people who are stealing unemployment benefits in order to protect the benefits fund for people who legitimately qualify," said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause.

In one of the odder cases, an individual was redeeming his unemployment checks twice. His bank allowed him to take a picture of his check and deposit it electronically. To double his money, he cashed his actual checks at a different establishment. If that weren't enough, he also used his infant child's name to file for additional unemployment benefits. A call to the department's fraud line led investigators to the suspect.

In another instance, a routine cross-match check with the Department of Labor and Industries uncovered an individual who was collecting unemployment benefits and worker's compensation at the same time. The problem was the individual wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits because he was unable to work due to an injury.

For context, Employment Security paid $4.6 billion in benefits to more than a half-million people in 2010. That means fraud accounted for about three-hundredths of a percent of the benefits paid.

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