PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced today that federal and state law enforcement, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, and together with measures implemented by US Bank, have successfully prevented over $44 million from reaching criminals who attempted to steal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funds in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) utilized sophisticated data analytics to identify the fraudulent claims. The Department of Labor & Industry provided program assistance and data, and DOL-OIG was supported by the U.S. Attorney’s Office-led Coronavirus Working Group of federal and state law enforcement agencies in Southeastern Pennsylvania, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.
PUA is funded entirely by federal dollars under the CARES Act and the program is administered by the state. Data analytics enabled DOL-OIG and the other law enforcement agencies to trace clusters of fraudulent claims for PUA funds back to the same criminals. The Department of Labor & Industry then used the information to stop the payment of PUA funds to those criminals.
The outstanding work of law enforcement saved over $28 million in PUA funds that would have been paid to fraudsters by check or direct deposit. In addition, US Bank administers the Pennsylvania debit card program used to make some PUA payments. US Bank applied analytics to identify an additional $16 million in fraudulent claims, and those funds will be returned to the Pennsylvania Department of Treasury.
Many of the fraudsters stole identities of real Pennsylvanians to file their fraudulent claims. Law enforcement’s ability to track the fraud was greatly enhanced by Pennsylvanians who came forward and reported that they had received PUA funds but had never applied for them. Anyone who receives state unemployment compensation funds that they did not apply for, whether by check, direct deposit or debit card, are probably victims of identity theft. If you find yourself in that position, U.S. Attorney McSwain strongly encourages you to report it immediately to the Department of Labor & Industry and return the funds.
“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.”
“The ongoing work of this joint task force has prevented criminals from stealing tens of millions of dollars meant for out-of-work Pennsylvanians,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “If you receive unemployment compensation you did not apply for, notify state officials right away. With your help we will take down these sophisticated scammers who are trying to use the COVID-19 pandemic for their own selfish, illegal, gain.”
“Criminals continue to exploit the Unemployment Insurance program for personal gain, and with selfish disregard for their fellow citizens. Fraud against the UI program distracts state workforce agencies from serving individuals in need of assistance, and siphons taxpayer funds from those who are qualified and eligible to receive UI benefits. The Office of Inspector General will continue to work closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, and our many law enforcement partners, to see to it that these criminals are sought out and held accountable,” said Derek Pickle, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Philadelphia Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.
U.S. Attorney McSwain and Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Pickle identified the following potentially fraudulent activities for Pennsylvanians to be alert to:
- You have not applied for unemployment benefits but you receive a PA Treasury check or direct deposit or a debit card issued by US Bank that you did not know about or apply for.
- You receive correspondence from the PA Department of Labor & Industry or the PA Department of Treasury about receiving unemployment assistance that you did not apply for.
- Someone comes to your home that you do not know and tells you that their unemployment assistance check or debit card was mistakenly mailed to you.
- 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 personal identifying information from you.
- Someone offers to help you file for unemployment benefits for a fee.
- Someone claims to be from the government and asks for a fee or personal information to complete your PUA application.
If any of these suspicious activities happen to you, you should not assist or confront the fraudster. End the interaction immediately and report the activity to the Department of Labor & Industry on their Benefits Fraud Form available at dlisecureweb.pa.gov/FRTS/BenefitsFraud.aspx or call the PA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-692-7469.