(The Center Square) – Acting Labor Secretary Jennifer Berrier said that Pennsylvania’s prevention efforts serve as a model for other states as officials deal with rampant unemployment fraud.
“This has actually been one of the areas where we’ve been applauded by the federal DOL [Department of Labor] and also looked to by other states as somewhat of a model in our fraud prevention efforts,” she told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “We recognized what was going on and we worked with the Treasury Department on implementing fraud measures as quickly as possible.”
The partnership, with help from law enforcement and reports from “honest” residents, recovered $800 million in stolen compensation from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program targeted by fraudsters, Berrier said.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach,” she said. “It’s really such a shame because this widespread fraud is causing problems and preventing individuals from getting the money they need.”
The criminals often filed for benefits using personal information stolen from the dark web or “other less than palatable means,” Berrier told lawmakers. Since May 2020, some 57,000 residents have returned checks or debit cards to the department that they say were sent in error. Officials also reversed 17,000 fraudulent direct deposits.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the many honest people who returned PUA payments they never applied for,” Treasurer Stacy Garrity said in a news release Monday. “Many of the scammers tried to collect benefits by filing for them and then taking them right out of the mailbox. The honest people who returned payments deserve the most credit for our success.”
The department also contracts with ID.me to weed out instances of identity theft. Since October, more than 978,000 applicants have requested PUA benefits, but just 16% have successfully verified their identity, Berrier said.
“Based on these numbers, it is presumed that nearly 84% of those claims were fraudulent,” she said. “ID.me has been an effective tool in ensuring that PUA benefits are not paid to fraudsters, and L&I’s fraud efforts have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as a successful model for other state unemployment compensation programs.”