Fraud warning: Crooks going after Pennsylvanians to steal unemployment money

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Fraudsters are continuing attempts to steal personal information in order to file false unemployment claims.

The pandemic has opened the floodgates for criminals. And in particular, when it comes to your unemployment benefits.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry and the Office of Attorney General are urging residents to remain vigilant against fraud, especially with increased fraud incidents revolving around unemployment programs.

Even while most states now have identity verification procedures in place that require workers to certify their COVID-related reason for needing assistance, criminals are still finding ways to file a claim for unemployment benefits in your name.

Those perpetrating the frauds try to gain access to personal information, including usernames, passwords, unemployment compensation personal identification numbers (PINs) and Social Security numbers in order to use that information to create fraudulent unemployment program claims or log into existing claims and redirect unemployment benefits payments.

They do this by contacting victims in several ways, including calling, texting, emailing or messaging via social media, posing as L&I or other government entities or groups to “help” claimants with issues so they can gather their personal and confidential information, and pretending to be unemployment claimants on Facebook or Twitter and offering to help legitimate claimants with their issues via phone or email, with the goal of stealing their personally identifiable information.

“With the availability of additional federal unemployment program funding, fraudsters are becoming bolder in their attempts to obtain and use Pennsylvanians’ personal information to steal this money,” said Labor & Industry Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier. “More than ever, each and every one of us must be on high alert and closely guard our personal information to stop these scammers.”

Berrier said that L&I never contacts anyone asking for their username, password, PIN or full Social Security number. Additionally, L&I does not communicate with claimants over social media, and the only valid email addresses to contact Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Service Center are uchelp@pa.gov and ucpua@pa.gov.

Crooks are also spoofing websites, using a .com instead of a .gov web address.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced several rounds of arrests since last summer, with the most recent arrests occurring on Jan. 26. Investigations into cases of suspected unemployment fraud are ongoing.

Channel 11′s news exchange partners at TribLIVE reported a Westmoreland County woman, Tracy Stankiewicz, pleaded guilty to defrauding the system of $11,000.

Investigators allege Stankiewicz worked with a Greene County inmate and used their name to file for unemployment. She claimed the inmate had lost their job and needed the help.

Stankiewicz faces up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fraud is something that the Office of Attorney General, as well as our federal and local law enforcement partners, takes very seriously. Not only are millions of taxpayer dollars at stake, but every fraudulent claim disrupts and delays the process for the Pennsylvanians who desperately need these funds to survive during these difficult times,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo. “To date, the Office of Attorney General has arrested 29 people, which represents 6 individual fraud rings, and accounts for around $2.5 million in illegally acquired funds. Our office remains committed to investigating and prosecuting these crimes and bringing the perpetrators of this fraud to justice.”

If you are a victim of unemployment fraud or know of someone who is participating in unemployment fraud, you can report it online, by calling the PA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-692-7469 or filing a police report.