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COVID Feature: Misdirected Money

Senior Director of Strategic Alliances
LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in recent months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. One of the states that has been hit the hardest is Pennsylvania, where over 2.3 million residents have applied for unemployment benefits since March.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania warned that with the rise of unemployment claims, there has been a corresponding rise in fraud. SpotlightPA reported that potentially more than 58,000 people have been a victim of unemployment fraud in recent months. (Trying to detect which of the millions of claims are fraudulent is no easy task.)

A Pittsburgh area woman detailed her own experience with someone who attempted to steal her identity. Dawn Holshue claims that someone stole her personal information and filed a fraudulent unemployment claim. Holshue never filed for unemployment as she has been disabled and unable to work for nearly a decade.

Holshue became suspicious when she received three checks totaling nearly $8,000 for financial support she never applied for. Her first instinct was to return the money. (Talk about a good Samaritan!) She also filed a police report and froze her credit card to protect herself from further scams. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry assured her that none of the agency’s systems had been compromised.

The most likely scenario is that fraudsters previously stole Holshue’s Social Security number and waited to use it following the implementation of the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. (Fraudsters view times of crises as opportunities to build wealth by stealing from others.) This program is meant for those who aren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits either because they’re self-employed or they are part-time workers.

What is unusual about Holshue’s case is that she received the unemployment checks in the mail. Fraudsters typically use another person’s identity, but have the money rerouted to their own account. In this case the scammers wouldn’t have received any of the unemployment money they attempted to steal. (You could say these fraudsters aren’t exactly the brightest criminals.)

State and federal prosecutors urge those who have received benefits but did not apply for them to not cash the checks or use the funds if directly deposited. Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry has detailed instructions on their website as to how to return money received from bogus unemployment claims. Any suspected identity theft or fraud should be reported by calling 800-692-7469.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from “Beechview Woman Believes Her Identity Was Stolen After Receiving Unemployment Despite Not Working For Nearly A Decade,” posted on KDKA2 on June 16, 2020.

Additional Article:


PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The state has paid out $16.6 billion in unemployment benefits since mid-March, but now the system is dealing with a new problem.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller talked to one woman who said criminals stole her identity and filed a bogus unemployment claim on her behalf.

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