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Data leaks used to apply for UC benefits

With reports of unemployment compensation fraud skyrocketing across Pennsylvania, Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, has joined his colleagues in the House of Representatives in calling for immediate action by the Pennsylvania attorney general and the Wolf administration to put a stop to the rampant criminal activity through creation of a multi-agency task force.

The group made their request in a letter to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Auditor General Tim DeFoor, Treasurer Stacy Garrity, Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier and Secretary of Revenue Daniel Hassell on Tuesday.

“We expressed our concerns about the financial cost of these scams, as well as the growing risk for identity theft and the impact on unemployed workers with legitimate claims who are not being served,” Heffley said. “After a year and a half, UC phone lines still go unanswered much of the time and the fraudulent claims are just adding exponentially to the calls being made to L&I. We cannot continue to sit by while our constituents suffer.”

Targeting fraud

The multi-agency task force would be charged with hunting down the criminals committing the fraud, implementing antifraud technology and procedures, auditing the UC processes during the pandemic, and determining how much tax money is being wasted processing false claims being stolen by fraudsters.

Berrier joined Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Director Major Jeremy Richard, and Department of Banking and Securities Deputy Secretary for Financial Services Tim Arthun to remind people to be vigilant of fraud and the warning signs and steps to take if they become a victim.

“Fraud is an unfortunate byproduct of any disaster, and we are seeing the proof of that during the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Berrier. “It’s frustrating that thousands of data breaches that occurred outside of L&I - and outside of the control of consumers who often had no choice but to give companies their personal data - are now resulting in widespread unemployment fraud attempts. We strongly urge everyone to remain vigilant about fraud and to notify authorities of any suspected fraud activity.”

Fraudsters have been applying for unemployment benefits using stolen identities that were obtained in data breaches that occurred outside of state government. There were more than 11,000 data breaches that caused the exposure of more than 1.6 billion records in the U.S. over a span of about 15 years.

It can happen to you

Many people are unaware until a fraudster uses their identity to apply for unemployment benefits and they receive notification that a benefits application has been filed in their name.

L&I utilizes numerous fraud-detection measures, including using virtual identity verification vendor ID.me to verify the identities of all new unemployment applicants. Since the new UC benefits system went live June 8, we have prevented approximately $1 billion in state and federal dollars from being paid out to fraudsters.

L&I works with the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force and other partners, including the FBI, Homeland Security and additional law enforcement agencies, the state treasury and the state attorney general’s office, to identify and block new fraud methods and stop fraud attempts.

“Realize it can happen to you,” said Richard. “If you have been a victim, don’t be embarrassed. Instead, report it to law enforcement. The Pennsylvania State Police works closely with its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to investigate fraud, identity theft, and scams. The sooner law enforcement knows, the better the chances are of recovering your money and catching the scammers.”

“Unfortunately, scams and fraud are growing more common while also becoming increasingly more sophisticated,” said Arthun. “If you are being contacted unexpectedly with a request for your personal or financial information with promises of something that seems too good to be true, it likely is.”

Anyone can contact the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities with questions or complaints about a financial transaction, company, or product at 1-800-PA-BANKS or using the online complaint form.

Visit www.uc.pa.gov and click on “fraud” to learn the warning signs of unemployment benefits fraud, how to report it, and the steps you should take if you become a victim.