Chamber: Impact of fraudulent jobless claims ‘significant’

In an effort to understand the impact of a spate of fraudulent unemployment compensation claims in the Oil Region, the Venango County Chamber of Commerce has begun polling employers.

On Thursday, employers on the chamber’s email list received a survey asking about their experiences with the fraudulent jobless claim issue. So far, chamber President Susan Williams said, there are 20 responses, and the impact looks “significant.”

Those responses, she said, came from “every possible demographic” of Venango County employer.

From small to large businesses and nonprofits to local government, employers are seeing fraudulent claims, according to Williams. And the employees who have been victimized, in many cases, are receiving the money.

The survey contained five questions aimed at quantifying the scale of the issue by employer, and also how employers’ experiences shade the bigger picture countywide.

One local school district reported 15 claims on various employees. Seven employers said affected employees have actually received a check, debit card or direct deposit.

“At least 50 Venango County employees have been affected, and those are just the ones we know about,” said Williams, whose priority is to ensure employers know “they need to be proactive about this.”

Many of the individuals having fraudulent claims filed on them, Williams said, may never even know about it until it complicates their tax returns. And, smaller businesses that don’t have someone processing payroll for them could struggle to navigate the state Department of Labor & Industry’s employer portal.

“In an effort to protect login safety,” Williams said, the department’s employer portal has “always been a little bit cumbersome.” Now, though, it’s likely the best bet, as calling the department has proven fruitless to the majority of employers with whom she’s spoken.

“You need to go in; you need to check and see,” she said. “You may not even get an email, as an employer, and unless your employee gets the money they may never find out either.”

While the chamber tries to get a handle on the situation, Williams said her best advice remains the same:

– Employers: Check in on claims regularly to make sure a fraudulent one hasn’t come in. If it has, Williams said, it must be reported.

– Employees: Report the issue to your employer’s human resources department as well as police in your jurisdiction of residence is integral.

Williams was tipped off to the local scale of the issue when she received a debit card applied for fraudulently in her name.

Once the chamber has a good volume of responses, she said, the data will be taken to state legislators in an effort to elevate the issue to a level that can motivate a concerted effort by the state to reign in the problem.

What Williams wants, she said, is for the department to give employers across the state a clear set of direct instructions on how to take care of a fraudulent claim should they receive one.

Until that happens, Williams said, the chamber will do what it can and when it can to help businesses.

She urged employers to be patient, as everyone tries to get a sense of how long this issue will go on before an intervention arrives.