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Unemployment fraud cases escalating in Blair, Bedford

A number of unemployment fraud cases have been reported in recent months in Blair and Bedford counties, as well as surrounding areas, according to state police.

It’s a problem not gone unnoticed by the Department of Labor & Industry, which announced on Wednesday that it has detected an escalation in attempts to steal unemployment compensation benefits through increasingly aggressive and sophisticated schemes.

While a probe is underway to determine the source of the attacks and the precise methods being used to intercept legitimate payments, the department said that multi-factor authentication will be added to the system. The two-step process adds an extra layer of protection.

Identity theft is a problem that is growing, state police said.

“It’s unfortunately becoming a more common issue, and it’s one that’s difficult to solve or monitor,” said Trooper Christopher Fox, public information officer for state police Troop G.

L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier said the department has seen an uptick in fraud cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the unprecedented demand on the nation’s unemployment compensation system has led to individuals breaching safeguards and taking money through illegitimate claims.

“Fraud-detection measures have revealed an increased level of sophistication in the most recent attacks on our system,” Berrier said.

According to Fox, area residents aren’t discovering their identity and benefits have been compromised until they make a claim themselves.

“These people get denied benefits, and they find out that it’s because someone stole their identity,” Fox said.

In addition, many victims of identity theft don’t realize what happened until they are turned down for a loan or mortgage, Fox said.

Fox said one of the best ways to prevent unemployment fraud, or any type of identity theft, is to monitor credit scores and reports.

Online programs and apps are available that monitor credit and instantly send an alert when a new account is opened. Fox noted that early intervention and a “strong paper trail” could help quash fraudulent claims.

“Always monitor your credit and make sure nothing fishy shows up,” Fox said. “If something out of the ordinary does show up on a credit report, notify your local police departments immediately.”

Anyone who receives unrequested unemployment paperwork or receives unrequested benefit payments should contact police and provide a copy of the police report to the Office of Unemployment Compensation.

Employers who receive notice that a claim has been opened for a current employee who is actively working or for an unknown person should also contact police.

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