Pa. authorities cracking down on unemployment benefits fraud, some reported in Westmoreland

Jan. 5—State officials are examining the source of a reported increase in efforts to steal unemployment compensation benefits, which they are trying to thwart by adding a new process for identity verification.

Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier said the agency is working with law enforcement to investigate and deter such instances.

"Fraud-detection measures have revealed an increased level of sophistication in the most recent attacks on our system," she said.

Agency spokesman Alex Peterson said there have been about 442,800 potentially fraudulent claims since Dec. 8 and the attempts have been escalating during the last few months.

Local state police reports show the situation has been ongoing for weeks and months. On Tuesday, a Unity man told troopers that his personal information was used to apply for fraudulent unemployment benefits, according to a public information report.

Last month, two men in Indiana and Fayette counties separately reported similar situations to state police. The Fayette man said someone used his Social Security number to claim unemployment benefits, according to troopers.

Since June, people have fraudulently tried to claim more than $4.7 million in state and federal dollars, according to state officials. In that same time period, roughly $1 billion was paid to legitimate claims, Peterson said. Officials are looking into why the fraudulent activity has been increasing recently, he said.

The situation has been ongoing since the pandemic started nearly two years ago, according to state labor officials. Then, fraudsters targeted the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program with identities stolen from data breaches outside state government. More recently, unemployment compensation has been the target.

Officials said multi-factor authentication, a two-step process, will be added for those who receive the compensation as an extra security measure.

Indicators of potential unemployment compensation fraud include receipt of unrequested unemployment compensation paperwork or payments, as well as employers receiving claims for employees or unknown people.

Fraud can be reported by phone at 1-800-692-7469 or at the bottom of The Department of Labor & Industry recommends reports also be made with police.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter .