MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — More than 2 million people have filed an unemployment claim in Pennsylvania since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
What's unclear is how many of those claims are legitimate.
FOX43 Finds Out how a man who had all the proper protections in place still became a victim of unemployment fraud.
One day at work, Jim Bach of Mechanicsburg was handed unemployment paperwork by his human resources director. "She said, 'did you file for unemployment?' and hands me a sheet. And it's from the Department of Labor and Industry saying you filed for unemployment and I said absolutely not."
Bach says he's gainfully employed as an IT support manager.
He asked HR at his company to look into it.
"There's no way you're going to pay out this claim and put my name on the line for the taxes and everything associated," said Bach.
He was told someone in Texas filed the claim.
"There were a lot of blanks on the form. so, the department of labor had filled in those blanks to process the claim, therefore the claim came back to my employer asking for verification in order to pay out the claim," said Bach.
FOX43 Finds Out asked the PA Department of Labor and Industry if someone from that department could fill in the blanks on a claim.
The press secretary for the department, Sarah DeSantis said, "If it's on a record, then we have that and we can fill those things in. We're not going to be going and doing the guessing. We're not going to be googling someone and guessing what their address is or something like that."
What really bothers Bach is he thought he had all the protections in place to prevent this. He said, "You follow all advice that you hear from all different directions about what to do and how to do it. and then all of a sudden it happens, like, ok."
The press secretary for L&I says fraudsters are getting people like bach's information from large data breaches. She said, "You see the Experian data leak, you see one from Target. They would steal people's identities and then they would use them to file on behalf of these victims."
Bach said he was a victim of all of those breaches, saying "That's why I had the fraud watches and the locks in place because of the Home Depot, Target and Experian and all of those various ones were offering free monitoring and I took advantage of it at the time."
Bach did end up filing a fraud report with the state and the federal disaster page, although he has yet to hear back.
DeSantis says these cases can take a while. "We are working behind the scenes to investigate those cases. It may be a little bit of time, but we are definitely checking into it and we are definitely trying to hold those folks accountable.
The Department of L&I and the state treasury say they recaptured nearly $800 million dollars of fraudulent unemployment benefits.
Most of that money came from Pennsylvanians who returned payments from claims that were fraudulently filed on their behalf.
Although the agencies did stop about $55 million in payments from being sent April 2020 and the end of March 2021.
DeSantis said, "That's money that really should be going to Pennsylvanians in need and not to these fraudsters."
PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro has also started to file some charges against people accused of filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Even so, Bach says he thinks his entire situation could have been avoided, "They should have denied the claim initially because the blanks weren't even filled in. That to me should have been the red flag that says, 'Wait a second, that's not filled out properly, it's not complete?' Deny the claim right now don't even let it go through."
If you've been a victim of a data breach, it's going to be very hard to stop unemployment fraud.
In a situation where you know someone has your social security number and other personal identifiable information, most experts recommend signing up for credit freezes with all three credit reporting agencies.
Typically, that will stop someone from opening an account in your name.
However, it will not stop someone from filing an unemployment claim on your behalf.