By Brian New

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Since the start of the pandemic, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has paid out more than a half billion dollars in unemployment claims to potential fraudsters.

While the $506 million paid to suspicious claimants makes up only 1.2% of total benefits, TWC Director Ed Serna told CBS 11 News his agency is taking additional steps to combat fraud.

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“One of the steps that we’ve taken is we’ve hired a couple of data scientists to look over all the data, all those 7 million claims, to try to find the anomalies in that data, and then go back and hunt that down,” Serna said.

The TWC director also said his agency has added protocols to help trigger when a claim may be frequent as well as required additional identity proof before authorizing payments.

While some fraud cases involve people who say they are unemployed but are actually working, Serna said the bigger problem is organized crime from nation states.

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Serna said the best way to stop fraudulent payments is for individuals and employers to not ignore notifications sent from the TWC.

“I know this sounds kind of insignificant but it’s very significant,” Serna said. “If you think it’s a mistake, don’t ignore it. It’s not a mistake. It means that somebody has filed a fraudulent claim.”

To report potential fraud, call the TWC hotline 1-800-252-3642 or email TWC.fraud@TWC.state.tx.us.

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WATCH FULL INTERVIEW WITH ED SERNA HERE