State police have launched a statewide investigation and urge anyone to contact them if your identity was stolen to file for unemployment.By Andy Sheehan

KITTANNING, Pa. (KDKA) – Across our region, internet thieves are stealing the identities of thousands of working people and using their personal information to file false unemployment claims.

At the Kittanning State Police barracks, they’re getting about three dozen complaints a shift, people coming in to file identify theft claims. Working folks are alarmed to find out someone has taken their personal information to commit unemployment fraud.

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It’s a shock to the system — to workers and their companies. At the ESS Insurance Agency in Kittanning, nearly half of its 32 employees have had fraudulent claims filed in their name.

“Right now 12 to 15 fraudulent claims that were filed under a person’s correct name, addresses, Social Security number, employee information,” said office manager Meghann Peters.

“It’s sad and it’s wrong,” said long-time employees Nancy Greenawalt.

Greenawalt has worked as an insurance agent at ESS Insurance for 18 years and has barely missed a day of work, but she’s extremely unsettled that someone has filed for unemployment in her name.

“You’re just afraid now. You don’t know if someone is going to damage your credit or drain your bank account. Just have to be very vigilant now,” said Greenawalt.

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The scam has gone on since the onset of COVID, people stealing identities to file false claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but state police in Armstrong and in Butler, Beaver and Lawrence say they’ve also been inundated with fraud claims over the past three weeks. The victims and their businesses are now saddled with piles of forms to clear their liability.

“It’s a paperwork nightmare. I spent my entire day on Friday just dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s,” said Peters.

Peters wonders at the fraudsters behind it all.

“They work harder at not working. If they would just get a job, I’m sure they would be pretty successful in the careers they could choose,” said Peters.

If you find that your identity was stolen to file for unemployment, the state police are conducting an investigation statewide. They urge you to contact them or your local police.

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The state Department of Labor and Industry says the increase in fraud is tied in prior leaks of personal data like Social Security numbers and say the leaks are from outside state government.