HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — More than two million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment since mid-March, but a growing number of fraudulent checks are being issued to people who have never filed a claim.
The Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) confirms that scammers are using personal information obtained from outside of its system, to try and steal Covid-19 unemployment benefits.
The state says its systems have not been compromised. But what might be, is your ability to spot a fake — as these checks, all but check out.
Camp Hill resident, Sharon Graney-Fagan, says she was sent two unemployment checks last week totaling nearly $8,000.
Claims, she said, that she never applied to receive.
“I started reading this and I thought ‘unemployment?’ I didn’t sign up for unemployment!” Graney-Fagan said. “The envelope that it came in looked very legitimate. So then I opened up the second one, and I was like ‘wait a second, this check is for even a larger amount!”
She got two checks on the same day – both with a keystone watermark, but Graney-Fagan says one thing, in particular, made her suspicious.
“‘If you’re not supposed to be getting this, send it back to the address here,'” she reads off the instructions, pointing to a blank space on the top half of the check. “Well, there is no address. Everything looked legitimate, the only thing that threw me off was the fact that there was no address to send it back to.”
That was confirmation enough though, she said, that the benefits were bogus.
“I feel bad that if there’s somebody who isn’t getting income right now…that they would be tempted to cash this,” Graney-Fagan said. “We know some people who have applied for unemployment, and they were turned down…and have tried to reapply and haven’t heard back yet. How is this happening when there are people who are supposed to be getting these unemployment checks and aren’t receiving them?”
“It is a mistake, it is a fraud, it is a scam,” said Cumberland County State Rep. Sheryl Delozier, who was also targeted by scammers.
Those ill-intended thieves, Delozier said, are worsening an already bad situation for the state and the DLI.
“Someone had this information and used it for ill purposes, and they’re taking and defrauding the state the money that really needs to go to other people,” Delozier said. “Those are folks that need the dollars and need that for the fact that they have lack of work. When there’s a disaster, when there’s a state of emergency, unfortunately those that have a criminal mindset take advantage of that to no end.”
She’ll be mailing her checks back, which is legally required if you didn’t apply for benefits.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are hurting and a lot of people that are looking for unemployment checks to come through,” Delozier said.
She explained the scammers earn money after someone cashes the first check, which triggers an automatic deposit for future benefits into the scammer’s account.
The DLI is actively working with state and federal officials to figure out how personal information is being stolen and then used to create fraudulent checks.
The DLI said in a release to ABC 27 News that these kinds of scams are popping up frequently across the country.
DLI adds that it will be sending additional information to all PUA claimants via U.S. Postal Service to ensure they applied and confirm that their personal information has not been compromised.
The department says it is unable to provide additional information because it is an ongoing investigation.
The DLI says anyone who receives a paper check in the mail but did not file for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania should not cash the checks. The checks should be returned to:
Department of Treasury Comptroller’s Office
Attn: Mark Accorsi
Room 113, Finance Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120