L&I Takes Additional Action Against New Wave of PUA Fraud

HARRISBURG – State officials plan to put additional anti-fraud and identity verification measures in place after an alarming spike in suspicious applications for unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program

Payments for new applicants are being temporarily delayed and the department will provide more information as the enhancement continues, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

“We know the PUA program is a lifeline for many families, and we want these Pennsylvanians to be able to access support as quickly as possible during this time of hardship,” said L&I Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. “However, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure taxpayer money is being spent appropriately. We are working to get additional anti-fraud measures put in place as quickly as possible so we can return our focus to serving Pennsylvanians in need instead of fighting scammers and thieves.”

He said there is no effect on people who have already opened a PUA claim.

Within the first few weeks of the PUA program, scammers began filing claims under stolen identities using personal information stolen through data breaches that occurred outside of state government, Oleksiak said.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, implemented security measures to help identify and prevent payout for fraudulent claims. As these measures were put in place, L&I saw a reduction in the overall number of claims filed for the PUA program.

Late last week, L&I staff noticed a spike in new claims from the average of about 5,000 daily, reaching more than 20,000 on Friday, with many of these new claims being filed from outside of Pennsylvania.

As soon as this surge was detected, L&I staff immediately notified its law enforcement partners and met with third party vendor Geographic Solutions Inc. to develop stronger identity verification methods, Oleksiak said.

Applications for the PUA program are continuing to be accepted, but new payouts are being postponed until the new identity verification methods are implemented. PUA claimants who applied prior to this issue are unaffected, as are claimants of other unemployment compensation programs run by L&I. The department has paid out more than $5 billion to PUA claimants and $28 billion to recipients of all unemployment compensation programs since the start of the pandemic.

“The bad behavior of these scammers is hurting Pennsylvanians, and we are continuing to work with the Pennsylvania Attorney General, U.S. Attorneys, and other state and federal agencies to identify those responsible,” said Oleksiak.

Pennsylvanians who believe their identity was stolen and used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits can report the theft. Pennsylvanians who have received unemployment benefits they did not apply for should not use the funds and instead follow the directions on returning them.