Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell'Isola told the Rotary Club of Guam on Thursday that an enormous number of fraudsters are attacking not just the federal unemployment aid system but other programs as well, so he asked for public vigilance and patience.
They include Social Security scams, lottery scams and counterfeit currency, at a time when the federal government has authorized some $1.63 billion for Guam to deal with the various impacts of COVID-19.
"Fraud and scams are (at) a record number on this island, and it's not just in my program," Dell'Isola said during the Rotary Club's fellowship meeting via Zoom.
There will be more public awareness campaigns on the scams in coming days, he said.
Even social media groups comprising those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or those who are applying for relief are under attack, with fraudsters trying to join the groups.
"Actually, we have had an influx over the last week," said Facebook page administrator Sharlene Ngirarois on Friday, after blocking several requests from Facebook users to join the closed group that now has 3,600-plus members.
Most blocked requests are from Bangladesh and Africa, she said. Others are from the U.S. and India.
"It's astounding," Ngirarois said, knowing that these fraudsters have the potential to deprive legitimate Guam workers in need of help.
Ngirarois, also a PUA claimant, said the group, which helps members navigate the unemployment aid program, "decided to be as strict as DOL."
"Guam is our home. We need to protect her," she said.
More than $390 million has been paid out for unemployment claims alone and that includes $32 million in withholding taxes. They now help to keep the economy afloat amid the pandemic.
Dell'Isola said, while he may now sound like a broken record for talking about fraudulent claims, the public needs to know what DOL and federal agencies are dealing with on a daily basis and why unemployment aid payments are sometimes delayed by days or weeks.
"We get about 90% fraud on a daily basis," he said.
If these attacks are not properly addressed, they could rob some 30,000 displaced Guam workers of the pandemic relief they need.
There's no telling whether Congress will be able to pass another massive unemployment package.
Fortunately, there are fraud measures in place to flag the bogus claims before any payments are made, Dell'Isola said.
"We continue to use a lot of resources to clean this and to pay it out. And that's why right now we only have through Aug. 23 as far as clean claims paid," he said. The previous batch paid cleared claims filed through Aug. 19.
It's not known how many payments slipped through to fraudsters, however, but Guam Labor is getting help from the FBI and other federal agencies to address PUA fraud.
On average, there are 15,000 to 20,000 unemployment claims paid every time Guam Labor batches claims for payment.
Extent of the attacks
Prior to his presentation, Dell'Isola picked a random date to show the extent of the attacks on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program alone.
The date picked was Aug. 5, when 454 unemployment claims were filed, he said.
Of that number, 404, or 89%, were disqualified because of "fraud," he said.
At least 32, or 7%, were legitimate claims, but with issues, he said.
The remaining 18, or 4%, were clear claims that were ready for payment.
That's just one day, he said. Dell'Isola went on to show the spreadsheet for the Aug. 5 filings, marked mostly in red, identifying fraudulent claims. There were only a few yellow marks that identified legitimate claims.
"Several states had to stop payment because of the massive fraud that they paid. I think we've been diligent and lucky because of our size," he said, adding the data demonstrates the number of claims caught before payment.
GDOL used to do a 10% sampling of the unemployment claims filed in the beginning. That has changed, he said.
"Now we're doing a 100% (sampling) because it's just gotten that bad and we have to do it because every week they're zeroing in with localized information and (it's) getting harder and harder to detect the fraud," he said. "But we continue to be diligent and we continue to get the money out."