State and Federal Partners Prevent Scammers from Stealing $44 Million from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program
Harrisburg, PA – Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak is reminding Pennsylvanians of the warning signs associated with the widespread identity theft fraud ring targeting COVID-19 unemployment compensation (UC) benefits programs across the nation. The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is the primary target of this sophisticated scam and victims are urged to report instances of fraud to L&I and local police.
"Pennsylvania takes unemployment benefits fraud very seriously and first warned the public about this national scam in May," said Secretary Oleksiak. "These fraudsters are using personal information previously stolen from sources outside of commonwealth agencies to file for PUA benefits. Many Pennsylvanians are not even aware their identities were stolen in the past until they receive correspondence or a debit card from our UC office. I urge everyone to remain vigilant, recognize the scam warning signs, and know what to do if you become a victim."
L&I continues to work closely with many state and federal partners, including banking and law enforcement officials. That collaboration identified more than 4,000 fraudulent claims in Pennsylvania for PUA benefits and prevented more than $44 million from reaching criminals.
"Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds are intended to help Pennsylvanians who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus," said U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. "Thieves who attempt to take these funds are taking advantage of others' misfortune – ripping them off while also ripping off all taxpayers who fund the program. I want to commend the outstanding cooperation and coordination among federal and state agencies, and private banking institutions, that together achieved this remarkable success. The U.S. Attorney's Office Coronavirus Working Group enables us to combine the tremendous resources and skill of federal and state law enforcement to do what it takes to bring these criminals to justice."
Scam Warning Signs
Pennsylvanians should be aware of the following potentially fraudulent activities related to unemployment compensation benefits:
- You have not applied for unemployment benefits but receive a check or direct deposit from the Pennsylvania Treasury Department (Treasury) or a ReliaCard debit card issued by US Bank.
- You receive correspondence from L&I or Treasury about receiving unemployment assistance for which you did not apply.
- Someone comes to your home that you do not know and tells you that their unemployment assistance check or debit card was mailed to you by mistake.
- Someone asks you to use your bank account to deposit their unemployment assistance.
- Someone, in person or electronically, tells you that you are entitled to unemployment assistance and requests your personal identifying information.
- Someone offers to help you file for unemployment benefits for a fee.
- Someone claims to be from L&I or another government agency or office and asks for a fee or personal information to complete your application for PUA or other benefits.
- Any employer that receives notice that a claim has been filed for one or more of your employees who continued working and were not laid off or otherwise unemployed.
If any of these suspicious activities happen to you, do not assist or confront the fraudster.
Report fraudulent activity regarding Pennsylvania's unemployment benefits:
- Identity theft – if you suspect or know that someone is using your personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, or date of birth without your knowledge or consent to file for unemployment benefits, complete and submit the Identity Theft Form.
- Unemployment claims fraud – if you know of individuals who are collecting unemployment benefits illegally, including people who are working and not reporting their wages for PA UC benefit purposes; or people who cannot work due to an illness, disability or incarceration, complete and submit the Unemployment Claims Fraud Form.
- PA Fraud Hotline – 1-800-692-7469
- File a police report with the municipality you resided in at the time the unemployment benefits in question were paid. A copy of the police report must be provided to the Office of Unemployment Compensation.
If you are a victim of identity theft you may also report it to the Federal Trade Commission and start a recovery plan at https://www.identitytheft.gov/.
How to Return Benefit Payments
Individuals who receive unemployment benefits payments that they did not apply for should use the appropriate following methods to return the funds.
- Paper checks
- Return to – Department of Treasury Comptroller's Office
Attn: Mark Accorsi
Room 113, Finance Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
- Direct deposits
- Return to – Department of Labor & Industry, 651 Boas St., Room 500, Harrisburg, PA 17121
- ReliaCard debit cards from US Bank
- Do not activate the debit cards and follow one of these procedures:
- Email a picture of the back of the ReliaCard or the number on the back of the card to PA Treasury at email@example.com and include the following in the email:
- Your name;
- Phone number; and
- Email address.
Destroy the card after emailing the above information.
- Return the ReliaCard by mail to:
- Department of Treasury Comptroller's Office, Attn: Mark Accorsi, Room 113, Finance Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120
Additional information is available on L&I's website at www.uc.pa.gov/fraud, Facebook or Twitter.
MEDIA CONTACT: Penny Ickes, firstname.lastname@example.org
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