Riverside police said Monday they are being inundated with fraud alerts connected to unemployment claims, as the California Economic Development Department enters a two-week hiatus on claims processing to clear a backlog and contend with internal problems.

Riverside police Detective Brian Money said the department’s Economic Crimes Unit has, in recent weeks, experienced a “significant increase” in calls about stolen, missing or misdirected EDD mail.

“We have also received increased calls from victims whose identity has been stolen to acquire fraudulent EDD unemployment benefits,” Money said.

He said the matter has gotten more complicated because of EDD’s operational deficiencies.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced over the weekend that the EDD will be put in a holding pattern for the next two weeks, not processing any new claims. The pause is due to a backlog of 1.6 million claims, with the number of new filings rising by roughly 10,000 per day, as the state public health lockdowns tied to coronavirus continue, keeping millions on the unemployment rolls.

“A common complaint by our citizens is they cannot contact anyone at EDD by phone or email,” Money said. “Our fraud detectives are having similar problems and cannot get through to EDD directly at times. It appears that EDD is completely overwhelmed.”

He said residents who have received EDD mail not intended for them have been informed to simply write “return to sender” and give letters back to the Postal Service. However, suspects involved in fraud schemes are “showing up at homes and taking the incoming and returned mail from mailboxes,” the detective said.

He said in a few cases, residents have been contacted by suspects and “coerced and threatened into relinquishing the EDD mail.”

Money said anyone who has received a threat should immediately contact the police department. He also advised residents to contact the department if they have “received suspicious mail from the EDD or any other states’ unemployment offices.”

Newsom justified the halt in claims processing as a means of implementing more automation and reduce manual processing of claims to accelerate their handling and the distribution of unemployment benefits.

Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, has over the last several months urged a comprehensive audit of the EDD, blaming bureaucratic inefficiency and other failings for a breakdown in benefits payments and high levels of fraud that is costing the state.

Last month, Melendez said her office received dozens of EDD mailings mistakenly sent to several residents in her district, with recipients’ addresses in San Jose, San Diego and other locations.

When City News Service asked EDD why mail had been misdirected, a spokeswoman attributed it to fraud.

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