The state says it has already prevented a billion dollars from being paid out to scam artists.By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — State unemployment officials and the Pennsylvania State Police warned that Pennsylvanians need to be on the lookout for data leaks that lead to unemployment compensation fraud.

The state said it has already prevented $1 billion from being paid out to scam artists.

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“When a disaster strikes, it’s a prime time for fraudsters and scammers to come out of the woodwork and take advantage of a situation, and that has not been more true than with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said state Secretary of Labor & Industry Jennifer Berrier.

Berrier and State Police Major Jeremy Richard, director of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, warned that scam artists are using private sector data leaks to steal anyone’s identity and use it to apply for unemployment benefits.

“The most important thing that you can do to keep from falling victim to a scam is to recognize that it can happen to you,” Richard said.

In the last 15 years, says Berrier, there have been 11,000 data breaches in the United States exposing 1.6 billion records to fraudsters.

She credits the unemployment office’s new computer system with catching some of the false unemployment claims.

“Since the new UC system went live on June 8, the Department of Labor & Industry has prevented over $1 billion from being paid to fraudsters,” she said.

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Berrier would not quantify the number of false claims but said the stolen identities used to file those claims are coming from outside her department.

“There’s a lot of misinformation going on out there right now. And I just want to repeat this. There has been no breach or hack of data within Labor & Industry or the new unemployment compensation system.”

The secretary acknowledged that her office is still behind processing about 300,000 claims and said efforts to weed out fraudulent claims slows the process down.

“If we didn’t have to deal with fraud, all of those resources that we put towards fighting fraud would go towards processing cases,” Berrier said.

Richard warns that citizens need to be vigilant.

“Signs of unemployment compensation fraud include: individuals receiving unrequested unemployment paperwork from the Department of Labor & Industry, individuals receiving unemployment benefit payments they did not apply for from the Pennsylvania Treasury and employers receiving notice that a claim has been opened in a current employee’s file that is actively working,” said Richard.

“There are instances where people actually collect the check out of someone’s mailbox,” Berrier added.

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If you think your identity has been stolen or someone is using your name to claim unemployment, state officials say report it to your local police.