EDD demands 1.4 million jobless prove their identity or lose benefits; ID verification isn't easy

It's left many with no money to live on and no way to know how long they'll have to wait.

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Thursday, January 14, 2021
EDD demands jobless to prove identity; verification isn't easy
1.4 million workers found their unemployment benefit accounts frozen on New Year's Day. Now, they must go through a lengthy ID verification process with EDD's new ID.me system.

NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) -- Anxiety is growing tonight among the 1.4 million Californians who suddenly lost their unemployment benefits on New Year's Day. The EDD is demanding every one of them prove their identities before they can get their benefits.

It's left many with no money to live on and no way to know how long they'll have to wait.

Workers all across California are flocking to our 7 On Your Side for help.

RELATED: EDD freezes pay for thousands of workers on New Year's Day

This is the latest debacle at EDD as it tries to weed out fraudulent claims. It appears hundreds of thousands of genuine workers were swept up in the crackdown and cut off from benefits.

And a new high tech verification system called ID.me is causing even more frustration.

"I guess the first feeling I get is absolute fear!" Tarri O'Donnell of Novato worked as a personal trainer before gyms had to shut in the pandemic.

She collected unemployment for the first time in her life - but now even that is gone.

VIDEO: CA unemployment fraud 4 times worse than first reported; $8B paid to criminals

How did California handle its unemployment crisis compared to other states? The amount of unemployment funds stolen from California taxpayers in 2020 may total more than $8 billion -- four times higher than estimated just one month ago.

"I haven't received a payment since the 7th of December and I couldn't figure out why," she said.

Then on New Year's Eve -- a message from the EDD:

"My account is suspended because of fraud activity. I thought, well that's absolutely bizarre," said O'Donnell.

The same thing happened to Jessica Choskey, a single mom in Orange County... both among the 1.4 million claims the EDD suspended trying to stop fraud.

"Happy New Year! We thought we were done with 2020. Rock 'em, sock 'em, 2021 has got you landed in a complete mess," said Choskey. "That was out of the blue."

RELATED: EDD investigating 255 criminal claims, sharp increase from 2019

The EDD offered no explanation of why they were targeted in a crackdown on scams.

The EDD now is requiring everyone to verify their identities in order to restore their benefits - but it's not so easy.

"It was like 11 last night that I'm doing this," Choskey said.

"It says I have four hours and 53 minutes of wait time," said O'Donnell.

RELATED: Nearly 1 million Californians may have to pay back some of their unemployment benefits

Choskey and O'Donnell were trying to use EDD's new "ID.me" verification system.

"This time it says two hours and 18 minutes and I'm thinking, well that's better than five hours," O'Donnell continued. "I scanned in my passport, I scanned in my driver's license..."

Choskey got right in. "They had you do a facial scan which was very interesting," she said.

"It asked me to hold the phone up to my face and it did a scan of my face," said O'Donnell.

"It goes up and down and shows you all these colors. It was kind of wild," described Choskey.

"It said it uploaded everything," said O'Donnell. Then she got the verdict - is she really O'Donnell?

"They said they could not verify me based on the phone number and documents!" she exclaimed.

Choskey was luckier.

"Your ID is verified -- and you feel like you won a game show!" said Choskey.

Even so, what she won is a "credential" - not her benefits.

"They still have to prove that this is you and then you may, "may" start to receive benefits again," Choskey said.

For Choskey and her kids, and for O'Donnell, it's more anxiety.

"I've never not been able to pay my bills," said O'Donnell.

"Where's the money gonna come from and how do we pay the bills?" asked Choskey.

The EDD says ID verification takes up to four weeks. But no telling what happens if the system doesn't agree you are who you say you are.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE!

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the full map in a new window