WILKES-BARRE — Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak this week reminded Pennsylvanians of the warning signs associated with the widespread identity theft fraud ring targeting COVID-19 unemployment compensation (UC) benefits programs across the nation.
The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is the primary target of this sophisticated scam and victims are urged to report instances of fraud to L&I and local police.
“Pennsylvania takes unemployment benefits fraud very seriously and first warned the public about this national scam in May,” Oleksiak said. “These fraudsters are using personal information previously stolen from sources outside of commonwealth agencies to file for PUA benefits. Many Pennsylvanians are not even aware their identities were stolen in the past until they receive correspondence or a debit card from our UC office. I urge everyone to remain vigilant, recognize the scam warning signs, and know what to do if you become a victim.”
L&I continues to work closely with many state and federal partners, including banking and law enforcement officials. That collaboration identified more than 4,000 fraudulent claims in Pennsylvania for PUA benefits and prevented more than $44 million from reaching criminals.
Scam warning signs
Pennsylvanians should be aware of the following potentially fraudulent activities related to unemployment compensation benefits:
• You have not applied for unemployment benefits but receive a check or direct deposit from the Pennsylvania Treasury Department (Treasury) or a ReliaCard debit card issued by US Bank.
• You receive correspondence from L&I or Treasury about receiving unemployment assistance for which you did not apply.
• Someone comes to your home that you do not know and tells you that their unemployment assistance check or debit card was mailed to you by mistake.
• Someone asks you to use your bank account to deposit their unemployment assistance.
• Someone, in person or electronically, tells you that you are entitled to unemployment assistance and requests your personal identifying information.
• Someone offers to help you file for unemployment benefits for a fee.
• Someone claims to be from L&I or another government agency or office and asks for a fee or personal information to complete your application for PUA or other benefits.
Any employer that receives notice that a claim has been filed for one or more of your employees who continued working and were not laid off or otherwise unemployed.
If any of these suspicious activities happen to you, do not assist or confront the fraudster. Report fraudulent activity regarding Pennsylvania’s unemployment benefits:
• PA Fraud Hotline: 1-800-692-7469
Rep. Meuser introduces bill
to stop mail-in voter fraud
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, this week introduced the Stop Mail-In Voter Fraud Act — legislation aimed at protecting the integrity of elections in response to the adoption of new forms of voting during the coronavirus crisis and known abuses of mail-in voting methods:
“The integrity of elections should be of the utmost importance to every American,” Meuser said. “Shocking examples of mail-in voter fraud, coupled with the adoption of new forms of voting in recent months, make it imperative for Congress to send a message of zero-tolerance for those who try to tamper with votes.”
Meuser added, “Submitting a fraudulent vote is, literally, stealing a vote. Additionally, a fraudulent vote cancels out a legitimate vote cast by a law-abiding citizen, effectively suppressing that legitimate vote. The Stop Mail-In Voter Fraud Act sends a clear warning to anyone thinking of tampering with mail-in ballots that they will be subject to significant penalties, possibly including jail time.”
About the Stop Mail-In Voter Fraud Act
• Increases penalties for mail fraud, using fictitious names or addresses on a ballot, or the transmission of fraudulent ballots.
These heightened penalties are targeted at those who “execute a scheme or artifice involving multiple ballots.”
• Directs the Attorney General to establish a reporting system on mail-in voter fraud.
• Establishes a toll-free hotline and a confidential online portal.
• Requires reporting on individuals recused from jury service on grounds of non-citizenship.
If an individual is selected for jury duty and then found to be a non-citizen, the court must notify the State’s chief election official and the Attorney General.
Sen. Toomey, others:
‘Please wear a mask’
U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., this week teamed up again to encourage Americans to wear a mask when they venture out of their homes.
In late March, Senators Toomey and Bennet became the first two members of Congress to publicly support mask wearing to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Their efforts included encouraging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House Coronavirus Task Force to update safety guidelines to encourage the use of masks. These efforts paid off as both the CDC and the Task Force endorsed mask wearing shortly thereafter.
In keeping with their support for people wearing masks when they venture out to public places, Senators Toomey and Bennet are introducing a bipartisan resolution that highlights the growing evidence that mask wearing indoors, when social distancing is not an option, can help combat the spread of COVID-19.
“Wearing a mask should not be controversial. Study after study affirms that wearing a mask reduces the spread of coronavirus,” Toomey said. “As our economy continues to reopen and until a vaccine is available, wearing a face mask when you venture out is the most practical and cost effective manner in which we, as Americans, can do our part to protect one another. Please, for the benefit of your neighbors, friends, and those who live in your community, wear a mask.”
Wolf Administration urges
response to 2020 Census
Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin this week reminded all Pennsylvanians to be a good neighbor and respond to the 2020 Census as soon as possible.
“Every Pennsylvanian’s response to the 2020 Census matters as it determines funding, congressional representation, and policy for our state,” Davin said. “The administration is counting on residents across the commonwealth to do their part and respond to the Census, as it will impact us all for the next decade.”
In Pennsylvania, 65.4 percent of residents have already responded to the Census, 3.1 percent higher than the national average.
Adams, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Cumberland, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and York all have a response rate of over 70 percent; while Cameron, Forest, Monroe, Philadelphia, Pike, Potter, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Wayne counties are reporting a response rate between 20 and 65 percent.
Pennsylvania’s goal is to ensure that all residents respond to the Census, as a low response rate will impact federal funding and representation. Census data are used to decide how $675 billion in federal public funding is spent every year. Pennsylvania receives $26.8 billion annually through its 16 largest federally-funded programs, or about $2,000 per Pennsylvanian each year.
This year marks the 22nd occasion of the United States Census, and commonwealth residents began receiving invitations to respond to the 2020 Census at the beginning of March. Pennsylvanians can respond online, by phone, or by mail, and this year marks the first time in history that responses can be filled out online. Pennsylvanians who have not responded to the 2020 Census should expect a Census enumerator in the coming days to assist with filling out the form. Census workers will carry an official identification card and number for individuals to call and confirm their identity, if necessary. They will also follow federal and state government COVID-19 guidelines.
In May, DCED announced an extension to respond to the 2020 Census from July 31, 2020, to October 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Census questionnaire is confidential and straightforward, with questions that include your name, address, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and whether you own or rent your home. The Census Bureau will never ask about your citizenship status or for sensitive information like your social security number, bank accounts, or payments/donations. The Census Bureau will never reach out to you on behalf of a political party. Your responses to the Census are protected by law and cannot be shared with, or used by, any other government agencies. Answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine eligibility for government benefits or immigration enforcement.