RIDGWAY-- The Department of Labor and Industry has been having a couple of bad years. The Ridgway Record has had numerous articles focused on the Unemployment situation over the past two years and the frustration applicants encountered when filing their claims. When Governor Tom Wolf shut down non-essential businesses throughout the Commonwealth at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania, the Unemployment system nearly collapsed under the weight of claims that came in initially in March of 2020. Even six months later, applicants who applied in March and April were still waiting to see if their claims were approved. At one point, it was taking over six weeks for the PA Department of Unemployment even to answer a question through an email. Attempting to call the telephone number or use the messenger system resulted in nothing but frustration for applicants.
The giant solution for this backlog was supposed to be a brand new Unemployment online application for the Commonwealth. In the first Zoom meeting with the Department of Labor and Industry in April of 2020, Gerard (Jerry) Oleksiak, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, announced that the new system would be installed and operational by October of 2020. As frustration grew over the summer and the year progressed into winter, the new system kept getting pushed off as the COVID-19 crisis continued. Finally, the big solution was ready for implementation on June 1, 2021. However, the applicant's data was not transitioned easily to the new program, and additional steps had to be taken by the applicants, such as signing up on another website to acquire a Keystone ID, which is currently under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. After signing up with a Keystone ID, applicants reported an easier process when filing weekly claims. As PA opened up and the number of applicants dropped, the PA DLI and Governor Wolf announced success. As it turns out, that was short-lived. The new website, which was touted as "easy-to-use" and "customer-friendly," was just a little too easy to use, and scammers nationwide began to use the system. The Pennsylvania State Police are warning everyone to watch out for fraud as scammers nationwide are using stolen social security numbers, addresses, and names to file fake unemployment compensation claims.
"No one thinks that a scam will happen to them," said Trooper Bruce Morris of Pennsylvania State Police, Ridgway Barracks, who said that "anyone can become a victim." "We have seen a huge uptick in fraudulent telephone scams and even a recent one where the scammers are pretending to be the Pennsylvania State Police," said Morris, "but since the new Unemployment system went into place in June, the Ridgway Barracks has now responded to dozens of fraudulent filings using stolen identities."
Statewide officials believe the stolen identities are coming from information taken from any of the 11,000 data breaches that have occurred nationwide over the past 15 years. They said nearly 1.6 billion records were exposed in those breaches that happened outside of state government.
"These fraudsters are not hacking into Labor & Industry systems, and there is no breach of Labor & Industry's new unemployment compensation system," said Pa. Secretary of Labor & Industry (L&I) Jennifer Berrier, who was appointed after
the resignation of former Secretary Gerard Oleksiak early this year.
Pennsylvania State Police said they might be a victim of fraud if they receive unrequested paperwork or checks from the state's unemployment compensation. They also warned everyone the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in gift card scams as well. Morris also urged people to check on elderly residents they may know and educate them on how not to become victimized by scammers. Strange calls and emails should be reported to State Police and Labor & Industry if related to unemployment compensation.
Individuals can report suspected unemployment fraud on the UC Benefits Website by clicking "Report Fraud Here" at the bottom of the page to complete and submit the Identity Theft Form. Employers should indicate the claim is fraudulent in their response to the Notice of Claim Filed. To report identity theft fraud related to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, click the Labor Department's fraud reporting system, at lisecureweb.pa.gov/FRTS/IdentityTheft.aspx. Call the Pennsylvania Fraud Hotline at 800-692-7469. File a police report with the municipality you resided in when the unemployment benefits in question were paid. A copy of the police report must be provided to the state. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends reporting fraud cases to the National Center for Disaster Fraud. Victims dealing with financial losses should also consider starting a recovery plan with the Federal Trade Commission.