CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia has received more than 35,000 fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims this month, officials said Friday.
Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, which handles the unemployment applications, said many claims have been filed using stolen personal data or were sent in with knowingly incorrect information. He said the fraudulent claims are slowing the process of getting unemployment benefits out to West Virginians who have already been waiting weeks.
“It’s going to take a little longer, unfortunately, to process those claims which can cause a delay for folks who need those benefits and have been waiting for several weeks,” Adkins said, vowing criminal prosecutions for the false claims.
States from Washington to Maine have reported increases in fraudulent unemployment claims.
Federal figures released Thursday said more than 4,200 West Virginians filed for jobless aid last week. State officials have said they received 250,000 claims in about the last two-and-a-half months.
The filings come as Republican Gov. Jim Justice pushes forward with an aggressive plan to lift virus restrictions across the state.
He will allow sporting events with spectators later this month and said fairs can resume July 1. The governor has also encouraged people to attend the annual State Fair Of West Virginia, which is set to take place in August. Meanwhile, organizers of the annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant said they were postponing the event this year because of the pandemic.
Justice’s reopening plan requires that the state’s cumulative positive test rate remains below 3% for three days, loosing a previous goal of having cases decline for two weeks.
At least 86 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 2,200 have tested positive, state health data shows.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.