A ring of crooks from Nigerian are alleged to have made off with unemployment benefits that have cost the state of Washington a yet-to-be-determined total that will be counted in the millions.
The fraud ring – called “Scatted Canary” by security experts – shuffled their way way through the state’s unemployment system as large amounts of claims were filed as COVID-19 caused a massive economic slowdown. The fraudsters were able to files thousands of claims, taking advantage of state benefits and the $600 extra a week from the federal government, according to the Seattle Times.
In Pennsylvania, the system has paid out $7.4 billion in total unemployment benefits since mid-March, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry official said in mid-May.
The large-scale fraud that has been reported in Washington has not yet been uncovered in Pennsylvania, but officials said they are keeping their eyes open.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s anti-fraud unit said this week that it “discovered attempts by scammers to try and bilk COVID-19 unemployment benefits using personal information obtained from sources outside of Labor and Industry.”
State officials did not state how much had been lost to scammers or how widespread the attempts were.
Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said the department has been on “high alert” since word of scammers targeting unemployment benefits across the nation surfaced.
“We are working closely with other state and federal agencies, as well as law enforcement, to investigate these incidents,” said Oleksiak.
“These fraudsters are using personal information that they have obtained without permission from other sources to file for PUA benefits and route their payments to their own bank accounts. It is possible that many Pennsylvanians are not aware their identities were previously stolen and should keep a close eye on their credit rating, as well as remain vigilant in protecting their personal information,” the secretary said in a statement.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry said none of their systems with personal information have been compromised.
Starting Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will begin sending information via mail to those who applied for pandemic unemployment assistance to be sure they applied and confirm their information has not been compromised.
Residents who did not file for unemployment benefits and received a check from the state should not deposit or cash it. Any checks should be returned to:
Department of Treasury Comptroller’s Office
Attn: Mark Accorsi
Room 113, Finance Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Those who receive a direct deposit and not did not file for unemployment should not spend the funds and return them to:
Department of Labor & Industry
651 Boas St., Room 500
Harrisburg, PA 17121
State officials said payment have to be made by personal check, cashier’s check, certified check, or money order to the “PA UC Fund.” Those who send the money back are requested to include a brief signed statement with the reason they are sending in the payment and include their printed name, address, last four of your social security number, phone number, and email address.
Under the rules, anyone who cashes a check or used direct deposit funds without applying for unemployment could face trouble because it may be deemed fraud.
In their effort to detect fraud, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will cross match data with other agencies across the country and work with federal authorities.
Residents who wish to report suspect fraud can do so with the following ways:
- 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 UC benefits, complete and submit the Identity Theft Form.
- Unemployment claims fraud – if you know of individuals who are collecting UC 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.
- 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.
State officials have the following tips for residents to avoid unemployment scams:
- Never give out your personal information over email or text message.
- Don’t wire money, and always ignore the following requests:
- Communications related to your UC benefits from someone asking for money;
- Someone who says they can help you file for your benefits for a fee; and
- Anyone claiming to work for L&I who says they need a fee to complete your application.
- Don’t open or respond to unsolicited emails or text messages.
- Never give out your personal information on websites or social media channels – especially those that claim they can help you apply for UC benefits. Third parties can’t apply for your benefits.
- Don’t trust or rely on UC info from unofficial websites – always visit www.uc.pa.gov for Pennsylvania unemployment program information.
L&I may need to call you. If you file a claim, save the following unemployment phone numbers to your phone so you know you’re receiving a legitimate call from L&I:
- 888-313-7284 – regular UC
- 855-284-8545 – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) phone number
We will ask you for some personal identification information including the last four digits of your Social Security number, but we will not ask for your full SSN.
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