When Frank Davis went to the mailbox one day in May, he got a letter from the unemployment compensation office.
It was strange – he’s never filed for unemployment. And he’s been retired since 1986.
Then he got another. And another and another.
“They’re all addressed to my address, but they’re usually different names,” Davis, who lives at the Messiah Village Retirement Community in Upper Allen Township, said.
He wonders if it’s an error in the unemployment compensation system of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, possibly attributed to an old computer system and contributing to reports of unpaid claims?
Or is it a scam?
That’s what the Department of Labor and Industry thinks may be the case. And there has been a rise in such incidents since the country saw record-breaking unemployment with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) program has been the target of a widespread national fraud ring in which scammers use previously stolen identities to apply for these benefits in multiple states across the country,” said Penny Ickes, communications director for the state Department of Labor & Industry. “The scammers are using Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information belonging to identity theft victims to commit the COVID-19-related unemployment compensation fraud.”
None of the department’s systems have been compromised, she added, but the state is continuing to receive reports of fraud attempts and is working with local law enforcement to investigate.
She said Davis may have been the target of a previous identity theft, accounting for why he is receiving the letters. Davis, however, said his identity has never been stolen, and he has seen nothing unusual in his personal finances recently.
And the letters keep coming.
“I have no idea what’s happening,” Davis said, an array of letters sprawled out before him. “It’s a mystery.”
Between May and Thursday, Davis received about 40 letters. Some appear to be letters related to the initial unemployment claims, with a return address for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation, Claimant Services. Others are from “PA Treasury UC/SWIF Materials” from Indianapolis, and felt like they may contain debit cards often used for benefit payments.
The letters look official, he said. When the first couple came through, Davis thought they may have been intended for someone else in the village, but when he brought them to the front desk, he found there were no residents by those names.
And the department’s explanation of it being a fraud does not make sense to him, he said. Who would benefit from sending him unemployment-compensation letters and debit cards?
“It would almost seem as though someone in that system was doing it rather than someone from the outside,” Davis said.
He worried that it could slow down the receipt of benefits for those who need them.
But Ickes said this is not an error in the system, and it’s the sort of fraud that has been seen before.
“His situation is consistent with other, similar fraud-related instances occurring in Pennsylvania and across the nation involving the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program,” she said. “This sophisticated identity theft fraud ring uses personally-identifiable information stolen previously outside of L&I or other commonwealth agencies. The scammers then use some or all of that stolen information to apply for PUA benefits in an attempt to fraudulently obtain those funds.”
She said the department is urging Pennsylvanians to report unemployment benefits fraud and highlighting the state and federal partnership that has prevented scammers from stealing $44 million from the program.
“Our goal is to prevent scammers from working toward any new methods as we further enhance safeguards to protect our programs,” Ickes said. “We continue to encourage this gentleman, and all Pennsylvanians, to remain vigilant, recognize the scam warning signs, and know what to do if they become a victim.”
She said she could not provide any additional information or specific details about the ongoing criminal investigation.
Potentially fraudulent activities related to unemployment compensation benefits include:
- Receiving a check or direct deposit from the Pennsylvania Treasury Department or a ReliaCard debit card issued by US Bank when you did not apply for unemployment compensation,
- Receiving correspondence from L&I or the 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.
Anyone who suspects fraud in unemployment compensation should call their local police, call the PA Fraud Hotline, 800-692-7469, or visit the Department of Labor & Industry’s website.
Thanks for visiting PennLive. Quality local journalism has never been more important. We need your support. Not a subscriber yet? Please consider supporting our work.
Get your CompTIA A+, Network+ White Hat-Hacker, Certified Web Intelligence Analyst and more starting at $35 a month. Click here for more details.