When millions of New Yorkers found themselves out of work overnight at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many had to navigate the horrors of the state’s antiquated unemployment system. They were met with a glitchy website that crashed repeatedly, spent days trying to get through to a human on the phone, and then spent months waiting for their payments to come through.

Now, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the state paid out an estimated $11 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims due to lax oversight by the state's Department of Labor.

In its official response, the labor department said it was navigating an unprecedented economic emergency and was able to distribute $105 billion to New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet.

In a report released Tuesday, DiNapoli laid out the steps his office took attempting to account for $76.3 billion in unemployment payments dolled out between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 — an increase of more than 3,000% from the prior year.

The comptroller’s auditors took a closer look at various samples of unemployment payments the state made. They found nearly 9,000 examples of people who’d likely received more unemployment payouts than the maximum allowable amount.

Further analysis from auditors found examples of duplicate payments to the same people, confusion over whether people were paid from state or federal funds and — in a smaller sample of 53 unemployment claims — about a third of people were likely paid too much by the state, the report found.

While the labor department claimed to have prevented $36 billion in fraudulent claims, DiNapoli said the agency wasn’t able to provide any supporting documents confirming that, and other requests for information to the agency were stalled for months, delaying their audit.

In a letter responding to the comptroller’s report, Susan Filburn, the labor department's deputy commissioner of employment security, agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations on improving security and oversight of unemployment claims, but defended the department’s work through unprecedented circumstances in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world’s economy to a grinding halt.

She pointed to a 13,480% increase in call volume and A 2,666% increase in new unemployment claims.

“We cannot conceive a single example where any form of public – or even private — infrastructure was capable of scaling up so quickly such that supply could meet demand,” she said. Despite that, she added that the department managed to pay out $105 billion over two years.

“This is over 50 years of benefits,” she wrote. “A truly remarkable achievement for this agency, given the 1970s era system architecture.”

It’s unclear how the state would attempt to recoup funds from people who were paid more than they were owed. A spokesperson for the labor department didn’t immediately return a request for further comment.

In addition to alarm bells about fraudulent payments, DiNapoli’s report also raised concerns about the security of sensitive personal information in the state’s care, warning the labor department leaves certain personal information unencrypted, doesn’t have strong authentication rules, and doesn’t regularly monitor its system logs for irregular activity.

“The department has minimal assurance that its substantial information assets are protected against loss or theft,” the report found.

Filburn said the labor department is two years into a four-year technology improvement plan that aims to do that.

DiNapoli has been the state’s comptroller since 2007, and was re-elected to his fourth four-year term in last week’s midterm elections, winning handily with 64% of the vote.