Illinois residents receiving unemployment benefits from other states despite not applying for them

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Some people in Illinois have told the ABC7-I-Team that they are getting unemployment benefits that they never applied for from different states.

Highland Park Dr. Ned Zallik said he and his wife received an unemployment letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor regarding unemployment benefits that they did not apply for.

But he said neither he nor his wife have ever lived in Pennsylvania and they've never applied for unemployment benefits.

He said he doesn't know how they were found, but he is likely the victim of identity theft and it's very unsettling.

"We would not wish this on anyone. Feeling violated I'm a way," Dr. Zallik said.

"When we couldn't get in touch with the people I'm Pennsylvania, we thought that we were doomed and we thought there was no better person to reach out to than you, Samantha. So we reached out to you and we are hoping to get this resolved."

He is not the only person who has reached out to ABC7.

Mary Santmyer said she also received an unemployment letter and debit card from Pennsylvania, which she never requested.

She said she nearly dropped to the floor and started crying because she said she never lived or even visited Pennsylvania and she knew this meant she was likely the victim of fraud.

ABC7 reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry and a spokesperson responded by saying

"Pennsylvania is one of several states seeing attempted fraudulent activity involving the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. This is a national issue in which fraudsters are using personally-identifiable information (Social Security Numbers, names, addresses, etc.) stolen previously outside of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) or other commonwealth agencies. The scammers then use some or all of that stolen information to apply for PUA benefits in an attempt to fraudulently obtain those funds.

"Pennsylvania takes unemployment benefits fraud very seriously. The Illinois residents you've heard from are likely victims of the widespread national Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) fraud ring. The PUA program is being targeted by scammers that are using previously stolen identities to apply for these unemployment benefits in multiple states across the country, including Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania continues to work with law enforcement and our other state and federal partners on this ongoing criminal investigation. Last month, we issued a press release urging Pennsylvanians to report unemployment benefits fraud and highlighting the state and federal partnership that prevented scammers from stealing $44 million from the PUA program. Additional background information from the U.S. Attorney's Office is available here. We also issued press releases warning of the scam in May (May 23 and May 24), and continue to provide related updates via our social media channels and website (www.uc.pa.gov/fraud). Additional background from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office is available here.

"L&I can't provide any information or comment on the specific details of the PUA fraud investigation. Our goal is to prevent scammers from developing new methods to defraud unemployment benefits as we continue to enhance and implement safeguards to protect our programs. We urge everyone to remain vigilant, recognize the scam warning signs, and know what to do if they become a victim.

"If the Illinois residents that contacted you haven't already filed a fraud report in Pennsylvania, we strongly encourage them to do so. You will find specific instructions and links below.

"The following information is also available in last month's press release.

Scam Warning Signs

Individuals 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 PA 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 Fraud
Report fraudulent activity regarding Pennsylvania's unemployment benefits:

Online
-Identity theft - if you suspect or know that someone is using your personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, or date of birth without your knowledge or consent to file for unemployment benefits, complete and submit the Identity Theft Form.

-Unemployment claims fraud - if you know of individuals who are collecting unemployment benefits illegally, including people who are working and not reporting their wages for PA UC benefit purposes; or people who cannot work due to an illness, disability or incarceration, complete and submit the Unemployment Claims Fraud Form.

Phone
PA Fraud Hotline - 1-800-692-7469
Police
File a police report with the municipality you resided in at the time the unemployment benefits in question were paid. A copy of the police report must be provided to the Office of Unemployment Compensation.

If you are a victim of identity theft you may also report it to the Federal Trade Commission and start a recovery plan at https://www.identitytheft.gov/.

How to Return Benefit Payments

Individuals who receive unemployment benefits payments that they did not apply for should use the appropriate following methods to return the funds.

Paper checks
-Return to - Department of Treasury Comptroller's Office

Attn: Mark Accorsi

Room 113, Finance Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Direct deposits
-Return to - Department of Labor & Industry
651 Boas St., Room 500
Harrisburg, PA 17121

ReliaCard debit cards from US Bank
-Do not activate the debit cards and follow one of these procedures:

1. Email a picture of the back of the ReliaCard or the number on the back of the card to PA Treasury at officeofinvestigations@patreasury.gov and include the following in the email:

Your name;

Phone number; and

Email address.

Destroy the card after emailing the above information.

2. Return the ReliaCard by mail to:

Department of Treasury Comptroller's Office
Attn: Mark Accorsi
Room 113, Finance Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Free credit reports are also available weekly through April 2021 at AnnualCreditReport.com."
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