Police field explosion in Erie region of unemployment fraud reports

A man was working at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when, without his knowledge, someone used his name and other information to file an unemployment compensation claim.

The man learned of the fraud when he lost his job and filed for unemployment, and was told he couldn’t open a claim because there was already one in his name, police said. ‘Erie.

The man, who has since found a new job, is still waiting for the case to be settled and to receive the unemployment benefit he was entitled to when he was out of work, investigators said.

At least two dozen bogus unemployment claims have been reported to Pennsylvania State Police since July 1, according to reports released by stations from the Troop E. agency which covers Erie, Crawford, counties, Venango and Warren.

The human experience is not unique to the Erie region or across the country. A growing number of people are filing bogus claims for money as they seek to take advantage of state and federal aid programs put in place to help those unemployed due to the pandemic.

Since July 1, at least two dozen bogus unemployment claims have been reported in northwestern Pennsylvania to Pennsylvania State Police, according to reports released by the agency’s E-Troop stations. , which covers Erie, Crawford, Venango and Warren counties.

Local police departments are also sending out a wave of complaints.

“Every day I get six to ten,” Erie Police Lt. Julie Kemling, who heads the city police bureau’s white collar crime unit, said of the report. number of unemployment fraud complaints going through his office.

Millcreek Township Police have started to receive reports of unemployment claims filed on behalf of people who were not asking some time ago and have contacted federal agencies to see how to handle the incidents, the Minister said. Lieutenant Donald Kucenski.

There was a “little lull” in business until it “just blew up” recently, Kucenski said.

Leaks could be the root of the fraud

Every state has faced increased unemployment benefit fraud since the start of the pandemic, the majority of frauds within the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program created by Congress and launched over one-year-old Sarah DeSantis, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, said in an email to the Erie Times-News.

Other issues:Pennsylvania reimburses $ 14 million in unemployment surcharges and changes benefits. What changes

The increased availability of funding for other programs, such as the additional $ 300 per week provided by the federal pandemic unemployment compensation program, has also attracted fraudsters, DeSantis said.

“It’s something that goes from person to person. ‘Hey, you can do that and make some money.’ So a bunch of people are doing it now, ”Kemling said.

There were 3,971 pending unemployment claims in Erie County for the week ending July 3, the most recent data available, DeSantis said. Due to ongoing investigations, the state agency does not have an estimate of the number of fraudulent claims, she said.

DeSantis said the attention generated by the launch of the new unemployment benefit system for unemployment benefit and emergency pandemic compensation programs, as well as the increase in fraud detection mechanisms in the new system, have led to an increase in the number of fraud attempts discovered.

The fraud is discovered in two ways, according to state and local police. In some cases, an employer is notified of an unemployment claim filed on behalf of a working person and has not filed the claim. In other cases, individuals receive things in the mail, including occasional checks, indicating that the individual had filed for unemployment when they had not, Kucenski said.

“I don’t know how they make these jobless claims,” ​​he said.

Kemling said she was equally puzzled.

“They have a name, a date of birth, sometimes the last four digits of a social security number,” she said. “That’s all. It’s weird. I suspect some kind of violation somewhere to have enough information to file an unemployment claim.”

DeSantis, in his email, said the recent increase in fraud attempts is linked to previous leaks of personal and confidential data, such as social security numbers, from sources outside the state government.

She said the US Department of Justice created the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force to tackle the problem of national fraud. The task force involves a number of federal agencies, including the United States Secret Service, the United States Department of Labor-Office of the Inspector General, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, the US Postal Inspection Service and the United States Attorney’s Offices.

Investigate cases

The state Ministry of Labor and Industry continues to work with the task force as well as with other partners, including law enforcement, the State Treasury, and the Attorney General’s Office. State to identify cases of fraud and hold suspects to account. The department is also working with other agencies and other states to identify and block new methods of fraud, DeSantis said.

Other fraud:David Bruce: former colleague victim of unemployment scam

State and municipal police departments in the Erie region are also investigating cases reported to them.

In a recent case, Erie police charged a 31-year-old city dweller with identity theft, access device fraud, theft and receiving stolen property after accusing him of opening an unemployment account on behalf of another man and for using his own address on the account.

Police accuse the man of receiving an account access card – sent to his address by the state unemployment office – and using it at several locations in Erie County to carry out checks. ATM purchases and withdrawals, investigators said.

Investigators also accuse the man of using the other man’s personal information at least seven times to transact from the fictitious unemployment account to his own bank account.

The total amount stolen in the scam was $ 12,878.10, according to police.

Kemling said the suspect was identified in the scam based on information police received from another individual.

Kucenski said two Millcreek police detectives were handling the unemployment fraud cases reported to his department. He said detectives took information and generated police incident numbers for victims to use when filing a report with the state.

The Department of Labor and Industry has layers of anti-fraud measures in place to prevent and stop fraudulent unemployment claims, DeSantis said. In addition to numerous identity, employment and income checkpoints for applicants, employers are notified when an employee has applied for benefits and the employer can enter the system and object to the claim. claim for unemployment, which will stop the payment, she said.

The majority of fraudulent claims are detected before payments are issued, DeSantis added.

She said suspected fraud could be reported on the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation System website at advantages.uc.pa.gov. Suspicions of fraud related to the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program can be reported through the Department of Labor and Industry at bit.ly/PA_DLI_Fraude.

Protect yourself against unemployment scams:

Never give out personal information by email or SMS

Don’t wire money

Ignore communications about unemployment benefits from someone asking for money, someone who says they can help file benefits for a fee, or anyone claiming to work for Labor & Industry who says they need fees to complete your request

Don’t open or reply to unsolicited emails or texts

Do not rely on unemployment benefit information from unofficial websites. Always visit www.uc.pa.gov for information on the Pennsylvania Unemployment Program

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry

Contact Tim Hahn at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @ETNhahn.

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