Online verification through ID.me was supposed to help the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prevent widespread fraud while rushing unemployment benefits to those who needed it most during the pandemic.
Instead, wait times to get verified for some stretched up to 10 hours, and in one case in California, actually took three days. A six-month investigation by the House Oversight Committee found evidence that ID.me “downplayed excessive wait times,” hiding the problem from federal and state agencies by only providing data related to successful connections, Politico reported. This likely kept aid out of reach for those most in need, whose technology access was not reliable enough to stay connected through substantially delayed wait times.
In a statement, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), described the evidence revealed by the investigation as “appalling.” The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis chairman, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), expressed disappointment that ID.me did not deliver as a partner in US efforts to quickly disburse aid.
“Congress acted swiftly at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that 22 million newly unemployed Americans had unemployment benefits to pay their rent or mortgages and keep food on their tables,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Companies entrusted with implementing critical programs in a national crisis must be able to serve the needs of the people those programs are intended to benefit. We must continue to work to ensure that, in the future, companies hired to implement critical programs are up to the job.”
The House committees’ investigation also lobbed allegations that ID.me made “baseless claims” to state and federal agencies about how much pandemic fraud was occurring. This, the press release said, was “in an apparent attempt to increase demand for its identity verification services.”
“Despite repeated requests, ID.me could not provide the Committees with any methodology it used to support its CEO’s assertion in June 2021 that ‘America has lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent claims’ for unemployment benefits, or as ‘much as 50 percent of all unemployment monies,’” the press release said.
Where ID.me CEO Blake Hall estimated that approximately $414 billion was lost—with seemingly no evidence to back this claim—the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General estimated the real figure was 10 times less, closer to $45.7 billion. The only sources ID.me provided to back up its much higher estimate post-dated the company’s estimate, and in one case, was based on the company’s estimate and not any other analysis.
ID.me told Ars that it has nothing more to add, directing Ars to a company statement and a post on LinkedIn, where Hall disputed the investigation’s findings.
“Today, House Oversight released a statement that inaccurately accused me of using a claim about fraud to win unemployment identity verification contracts,” Hall wrote on LinkedIn.
“ID.me was already under contract with 43 government agencies, including 26 state unemployment agencies, before I ever made any estimate about $400B in improper unemployment payments,” Hall wrote. “We released our estimate as concerned citizens who were shocked at the extent of the fraud we were witnessing across states. Any assertion that we made a claim about fraud to advance our business omits the fact that 43 agencies chose ID.me before the statement was ever made.”
As of last month, ID.me reported that its online identity verification services were still being used by 30 states and 10 federal agencies.