Fraud, according to the U.S. Labor Department, is the primary reason more than $36 billion in unemployment payments have been lost since the pandemic began a year ago.
Scammers have largely focused on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was created by the federal CARES Act late last March. And this is going on in all states, the acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry said on Tuesday afternoon.
“Fraudsters are stealing information,” Jennifer Berrier said during a virtual news briefing. “Some are creating Facebook pages that look like L&I’s Facebook page or falsely identify themselves as L&I employees.
“We want to stress how important it is to closely guard your personal identification. L&I will never contact a claimant through social media and ask for your numbers.”
The department maintains that it will not ask anyone for a user name, password, pin or full Social Security number. The state’s Unemployment Compensation Service Center can be contacted only at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
“We’ve had situations where fraudsters have gotten information and had the payments mailed to victims’ homes, then took (the money) from a victim’s mailbox,” Berrier said.
Berrier was accompanied by Brian Zarallo, chief deputy attorney general for the state. Their advice to Pennsylvanians was to be vigilant against crime.
Zarallo stressed that the investigation is ongoing, which is why he and Berrier were unable to provide some specifics on how much damage scammers have caused across the state.
The deputy AG said during the first wave of arrests in the middle of last year, the state’s three U.S. attorney’s offices arrested and charged 29 individuals who were involved in six crime rings that secured $2.5 million in illegal funds.
Zarallo took a moment to issue a stern reminder to residents that “if you apply for benefits while providing false information, you are committing a felony.”
Residents who have not applied for unemployment benefits could prove to be victims of this fraud. L&I, in fact, said they most likely would be one if they:
n Receive unrequested UE paperwork from its Office of Unemployment Compensation;
n Receive UE benefit payment(s) they did not apply for from the Pennsylvania Treasury;
n Receive 1099G tax forms for 2020, indicating they got UE benefits.
Labor & Industry urges residents to contact the department if they believe they have been scammed.