HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — The Pennsylvania Treasury and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) worked with various law enforcement agencies to identify fraud connected to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Treasurer Stacy Garrity and Acting Secretary of L&I Jennifer Berrier announced that they recaptured $800 million worth of unemployment benefits.
The L&I discovered fraudulent activity as early as mid-May of 2020, according to a press release. By late May, the agencies had made the first criminal referral for unemployment benefits fraud conspiracy.
“All across the nation, PUA was targeted by criminals intent on stealing benefits,” Garrity said. “The staffs at Treasury and the Department of Labor & Industry did a remarkable job of recovering fraudulently disbursed funds. Within weeks of the first PUA payments being sent out, we determined that fraudsters from around the globe had descended upon the program and took steps to recover fraudulently disbursed funds.”
It’s reported that much of the work on halting nearly $740 million in improper payments was based on information the Treasury and L&I received from thousands of honest Pennsylvanians who returned payments they had not requested. In addition, L&I’s Internal Audits Division prevented over $55 million from being sent between April 2020 and the end of March 2021.
Fraudsters were intercepting paper checks and redirecting direct deposits in early PUA schemes, the press release said. By early July, all PUA payments were transitioned to debit cards, permitting funds to be held or restricted in response to financial anomalies.’
In October 2020, L&I contracted with ID.me to verify the identity of those applying for PUA benefits. Out of the 978,000 claims since that system was put into place, only 155,000 individuals successfully verified their identity. This leads Berrier to presume that 84% of those claims were fraudulent.
As part of their joint anti-fraud efforts, the two agencies report the following:
- Issued stop payments on 28,000 fraudulent paper check payments returned by honest citizens and an additional 57,000 stale-dated check payments
- Canceled more than 27,000 debit cards returned to Treasury by honest citizens and an additional 53,000 stale-dated cards
- Reversed approximately 17,000 fraudulent ACH benefit payments
The L&I asks that anyone who received unemployment befits that they did not apply for the report it to them. Information on how to do so can be found on the Office of Unemployment Compensation website.
Additionally, instructions on how to return mistakenly received debit cards, checks or electronic payments can be found on the Treasury website.
If you receive suspicious emails or texts about unemployment compensation benefits, the Department of Justice asks to file a report online with the National Center for Disaster Fraud.