On January 25, California officials told the public that while the state had paid out $114 billion in unemployment benefits, auditors had found a problem. More than $11 billion of those payouts were fraudulent.
To address this, California officials hired ID.me, a 10-year-old startup, to ensure that every person who receives benefits is actually eligible. ID.me provides an app where users can upload pictures of their government documents, like a driver’s license and passport, as well as a selfie. The company says it will then use A.I. algorithms and facial recognition to authenticate the documents and compare ID pictures to the new selfie.
ID.me claims this system prevents $1 billion in fraud per week across the 21 states that already use the service for claims related to Covid-19. California has suspended 1.4 million unemployment claims under suspicion of fraud since it adopted the system. While 300,000 of those suspended Californians have been able to verify themselves, 1.1 million now have less than 30 days to do so through ID.me’s service.
But along with any alleged fraudsters, legitimate claimants have also been rejected by the company’s machine learning and facial recognition systems — leading to massive delays in life-sustaining funds.
For instance, California resident Tarri O’Donnell told ABC7 News that after she had uploaded her passport and scanned her face for ID.me’s facial recognition, the software couldn’t confirm her identity. She then needed to wait hours for a video call so an ID.me representative could do it manually.
Another Californian waited for more than 48 hours to get on a video call with the company after their identity couldn’t be verified automatically using the app. Hundreds of Twitter users have tweeted at the company this month, unable to access unemployment benefits and begging the company to intervene on their accounts. Unemployment in California is currently at 9% but spiked up beyond 15% in 2020. For many citizens, obtaining these funds is crucial, especially as avenues of work are still closed due to the…