BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. - When the pandemic shut down businesses and left people without jobs, millions of Americans filed for unemployment through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
But investigators say some of those claims were done fraudulently with stolen identities.
Sgt. Shaun Powell in Bethlehem Township said his department has been busy investigating such cases. According to Powell, benefit cards in the form of a pre-paid debit card, are sent to beneficiaries via UPS. The thieves have been able to intercept the cards by contacting UPS and picking up the card at a UPS hub instead of it arriving in the mail.
Powell said thieves have been able to pick up those cards from the shipping facility using fake IDs.
"These criminals are usually applying for backdated benefits, saying since March, since April, I've been unemployed, please pay me the 10, 13, $15,000 that you owe me," Sgt. Powell said.
In one case, Powell said officers arrested a man who had ten cards, with a total value of nearly $100,000.
"In the last few months, I want to say, two to three months, we've collected $500,000 worth of unemployment cards alone," Sgt. Powell said. "I commonly wonder how many UPS's are dealing with this across the country. It's sad because it's my tax money, your tax money," Sgt. Powell said.
In a statement, UPS said it "has resources dedicated to preventing, identifying and stopping fraudulent activity. We work with the responding authorities on their investigations, but we do not disclose those methods to maintain their effectiveness."
Pennsylvania's Department of Labor & Industry said it hired an ID verification vendor in September after noticing a surge in suspicious claims.
The department said fraudsters use information obtained in breaches outside of the state government.
"In many states, including Pennsylvania, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program has been targeted by scammers because the federal CARES Act that created the PUA program stipulated different verification methods than traditional Unemployment Compensation," the department said.
The department said it also implemented anti-fraud measures with the federal program including having funds put on a "U.S. Bank ReliaCard to prevent scammers from redirecting direct deposit and check payments."
The state said it is working with law enforcement agencies, including out-of-state agencies, to investigate cases of fraud and implement more anti-fraud measures.
Sgt. Powell said his agency is also working with federal agencies.
He said many of those who've been caught are from the Dominican Republic and said it's likely this could be the workings of some sort of ring. He added that the person picking up the cards may only be getting a few hundred bucks for their work.
If you receive a letter from the state saying you've applied for benefits and an unemployment card will be sent via UPS, but you never applied, call police and report it to the state's unemployment office. You should also check your credit report for signs of identity theft.
If a package containing a government debit card is delivered to your residence-for you or another-and it was unexpected or not yours, please call your local police department and be cautious if someone comes to your residence looking for it.