Unemployment in California: EDD official talks fraudulent claims, busy phone lines, identity verification

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A spokesperson for California's embattled Employment Development Department joined ABC7's program "Getting Answers" on Thursday to discuss the problems millions of Californians are facing as they try to apply for benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Fraudulent Claims

A state audit released last week revealed the EDD likely paid out at least $10 billion in fraudulent claims between March and December -- another hit to the troubled department.

Spokesperson Loree Levy addressed the millions of fraudulent claims that we're paid out -- citing organized crime rings and the "treasure trove" of information available from data breaches on the dark web.

According to the audit, the EDD flagged up to 1,000 suspicious claims per day during the initial four months of the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

Additionally, Bank of American froze 344,000 debit cards last fall on suspicion of fraud.

On top of that, another $810 million in benefits was paid out to the names of 45,000 prison inmates.

California Auditor Elaine Howle said in her report that the EDD was slow to react to fraudulent claim warnings.

During Thursday's interview, Levy said prior the pandemic, the primary source of fraud in California was people going back to work and still claiming benefits.

Levy said the agency is now "well positioned" to move into 2021.

RELATED: California Unemployment: Why is Bank of America draining EDD bank accounts?

Identity Verification

ABC7 News viewers submitted questions during the Thursday's interview, and a primary point of concern -- identity verification.

Some Californians struggle to verify their identity when applying, and for others, even after their identity is verified, they're not receiving benefits.

Levy said it takes seven to 10 days to receive a payment after the identity verification.

If your account shows "pending," Levy said it may be related to another eligibility issue or weekly certification.

In terms of verifying your identity, Levy says it's important your documents are readable and that they match what's on file with the DMV and Social Security Administration.

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Struggling to get through on the phone?

If you're one of the many struggling to get through to the EDD on the phone lines -- you're not alone.

"It's not what we want for individuals whatsoever," she said.

And Levy said the agency has hired 900 additional employees just this month to help with the demand.

She encourages applicants to use self-service tools online and try to find a solution on the agency's website rather than over the phone.

RELATED: Insiders say California EDD unemployment benefit scam was get-rich-quick scheme

"If you have some issues getting through on the phone, we've really tried to make some great, valuable information online," Levy said.

She went on to say EDD call center employees are working "extensive hours" to assist with Californians' unemployment needs, but reiterated that people should use online tools when possible.

"Check those resources out and hopefully they will help," the spokesperson said.

Watch the entire interview with the EDD spokesperson in the media player above

VIDEO: EDD scam: How investigators caught inmates running EDD scam ring out of jail
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21 inmates, including eight at a Redwood City facility, are being charged for taking part in a scheme to defraud the state out of $250,000 dollars in unemployment benefits.

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