Most of the fraud was connected to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.By Jessica Guay

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pennsylvania Treasurer’s Office and the Department of Labor and Industry recaptured nearly $800 million of unemployment benefits that fraudsters were trying to steal.

Treasurer Stacy Garrity and Acting Secretary of Labor & Industry Jennifer Berrier made the announcement Monday. The two agencies first discovered the fraudulent activity last May. Since then, the agencies have increased efforts to detect and prevent fraud.

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Most of the fraud was connected to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

“As frustrating as it is for us, obviously, it’s much more so for the people who were directly impacted, both in terms of delays of receiving their own legit payments and people whose identities were stolen,” said Erik Arneson, the deputy treasurer for communications.

Arneson said in many cases, fraudsters obtained personal information stolen through data breaches and fraudulently file for benefits.

“They pose as real people and apply for these benefits and as many times as they can,” said Arneson.

A press release stated, “Treasury and L&I worked together to halt nearly $740 million in improper payments issued to fraudsters. Much of that work was based on information from thousands of honest Pennsylvanians who returned payments they had not requested. In addition to halting payments through its partnership with the Treasury, L&I’s Internal Audits Division prevented just over $55 million in fraudulent payments from being sent between April 2020 and the end of March 2021.”

The two agencies’ efforts to stop fraud could speed things up for those waiting for benefits. The state Department of Labor and Industry is also getting ready to update its unemployment compensation system and hire more employees to answer compensation calls.

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“We already had a massive number of new applicants, legitimate applicants. When you combine all the fraud coming in there, there is no question that it slowed things down,” said Arneson.

He said Pennsylvanians still need to be alert.

“Fraudsters are still actively using fake websites and fake social media accounts to try to lure people in,” Arneson said.

He advises people to never click any suspicious links.

“If you are applying for UC benefits, be very careful and make sure you’re using the official Labor and Industry website,” Arneson said.

Arneson said you may have become a victim of the fraud if you receive benefits that you did not apply for or a 1099 form.

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If you received unemployment benefits that you did not file for, report them to the state Department of Labor and Industry and make sure to check if your identity was stolen. L&I said free credit reports are being offered by TransUnion, Equifax and Experian through April 2022 here.