Locally, unemployment fraud continues to pop up in our area. 

Many people, including ones that have never filed for benefits before are having their information stolen, and benefits being filed for on their behalf. 

The Labor Department staff has said multiple times that this can happen to anyone. And they aren't wrong. 

Terry Olsen, who works for Erie News Now, recently received a letter from the Labor Department. It read that he would soon be getting money for benefits.

"I thought it maybe was some new stimulus or something that was getting sent out, because I haven't filed for any unemployment benefits", Olsen said. "I even brought the papers to our controller, and she wasn't even sure if it was unemployment at first."

The only concern is that Olsen has never filed for unemployment before. He thought at first it must be a mistake. 

Shortly after getting that letter, however, another one came in the mail from the Department of Labor. 

It stated that Olsen could be a victim of unemployment fraud. He says without reading the letter, there's no way he would have known this was the case.

"I probably wouldn't have noticed it right away", said Olsen. "In this day and age, you're doing mostly everything with electronic transfers, paying bills, getting funds, I wouldn't have noticed."


PUA fraud is a large part of the reason as to why the Labor Department has begun to implement new safety procedures as of last week. 

The department partnered with a third party vendor to do this, including several new methods of identification. 

Local Representative Pat Harkins knows that fraud most likely will not continue, but is hopeful the new unemployment system, which has been in the works for several years, will hope to combat the fraud scares around the state. 

"You have the people who are always looking for a fast buck and I think you'll always have that", said Harkins.

"I do think with the new system, we will be able to react quicker and have more protection for the taxpayer, as well as those who legitimately deserve their payments."

The concern, however, is that the new system may not be ready for quite some time. Originally, October was the scheduled release month for the updated program after delays caused by the pandemic forced the project back until this fall. 

However, in a news conference Monday, Labor Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said timeline would be delayed yet again, and didn't have a clear idea as to when the system would launch. 

"We don't have a date certain yet that we will launch it", Oleksiak said. "We are hoping it will be months."

In an interview with Erie News Now late last week, Harkins predicted that February could be a potential target month to launch the new program. 

This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.