PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The state has paid out $16.6 billion in unemployment benefits since mid-March, but now the system is dealing with a new problem.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller talked to one woman who said criminals stole her identity and filed a bogus unemployment claim on her behalf.

“What else are they doing with my social security number? What else were they able to do before I locked it down? And how long was it out there?” said Dawn Holshue.

Holshue lives in Beechview and hasn’t worked in years. But as soon as she grabbed her mail last week, she knew something was wrong.

“I have not worked in nine years, I’m disabled,” said Holshue.

The first check totaled $5,400. Then came a check for $1,950 and another for $600.

A lot of money Holshue said she didn’t earn and knows she can’t keep.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller asked her what she thought when she discovered the checks.

“Somebody stole my identity — immediately. That’s what I thought, fraud,” Holshue said.

State Senator Camera Bartolotta said this isn’t a one-time deal. She chairs the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, and they’ve linked the fraud to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.

“PUA goes to those individuals who are self-employed or their gig workers and they aren’t eligible for straight unemployment,” said Sen. Bartolotta, R-46.

Sen. Bartolotta said fraudsters tried to plug in previously stolen social security numbers and scam the new program.

“This identity theft happened some other time in the past and these nefarious individuals were waiting for a perfect opportunity to use that information,” said Sen. Bartolotta.

Meaning a criminal likely stole Holshue’s identity before the pandemic and tried to cash in just last week.

Holshue tells KDKA she filed a police report with Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, a fraud alert and froze her credit.

“Because I hadn’t been working, you have to protect yourself and the criminals are working overtime now,” said Holshue.

State officials declined to say how many times criminals tried to do this with the PUA system, but they did flag 58,000 unemployment claims with the regular unemployment compensation system.

They will investigate those flagged claims further, but said they’re not necessarily fraudulent.

Meghan Schiller