WASHINGTON — A government watchdog office says 1,000 people have been charged with unemployment insurance fraud for claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The labor department’s inspector general says there’s been more than $45 billion in potential unemployment insurance fraud since the pandemic hit.

Senator Rick Scott (D-Fla.) says the government is to blame and Drake Hagner, visiting professor at George Washington Law, agrees.

“The amount of fraud is definitely surprising,” Hagner said. “What we really have seen is that our state workforce agencies have been under-prepared to respond to a crisis of this kind.”

“You should be furious with your government,” Scott added.

Old computer systems mean unemployment offices cant easily detect fraud, like when claims are filed in multiple states or when they’re filed under the identity of someone who’s in prison or deceased.

The issues with stolen identities impacted low-income workers most because if they had their identities stolen, they were unable to easily fix the problem — many state unemployment systems aren’t compatible with mobile devices.

Scott recognizes the problem but says there are other issues to fix before dedicating dollars to updating computer systems, and Hagner says ultimately states will need federal funding to fix the unemployment systems to prevent future fraud.

“We should have been looking all along at who is taking advantage of the system,” Hagner said.

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