SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP/CBS13) — California has suspended 1.4 million unemployment claims as it battles fraud in its massive coronavirus unemployment relief program, it was reported Wednesday.

The state Employment Development Department said it had examined existing claims from people who said they lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and found about 3.5 million claims were “potentially fraudulent,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

READ MORE: 'Just Trying To Do Good': Modesto Junior College Professor Runs To Support Struggling Students

Nearly 2 million of those claims already have been disqualified and payment was suspended for about 1.4 million until they could be verified. The EDD said it would contact claimants to tell them how to prove their identities, the paper said.

Over the weekend, the EDD announced it was suspending an unspecified number of accounts in an effort to weed out fraud, blindsiding many who say they are actually unemployed and have no way to prove their identity or unemployment.

ID.me recently took over identity verification for EDD. Until now, ID.me has only verified new unemployment claims, not continuing or suspended claims. But ID.me CEO Blake Hall told CBS13 that they saw an unexpected 300% increase in verification requests following the EDD tweet on Sunday.

READ MORE: Multi-Vehicle Crash Closes Northbound I-5 Lanes Near Highway 50 Connector In Sacramento

READ MORE: EDD Suspends ‘High Risk’ Accounts To Weed Out Fraud

California, the nation’s most populous state, has processed more than 16 million unemployment benefits since March, a byproduct of the pandemic that prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to order businesses to close. The EDD has struggled to keep up with the demand, facing intense pressure to work through a backlog that at one time numbered more than 1.6 million people.

The state has acknowledged that the department was bilked out of hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID-19 unemployment funds that went to fraudsters, including some in the name of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Others were sent to inmates in jails and prisons, including some on California’s death row, the agency has acknowledged.

Last month, Bank of America, which issues EDD benefit cards, told state lawmakers it had identified about 345,000 fraudulent claims worth about $2 billion, although that figure is expected to go much higher.

MORE NEWS: How Fast Is Too Fast? As California Starts to Reopen, COVID Risk Still Remains

More from CBS Sacramento: