Defendant Used Fraudulent and Stolen Information to Take Advantage of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program
HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in conjunction with the 47th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, today announced that the Office of Attorney General has filed charges against Nelson Fornah for stealing the personal identifying information of several intellectually disabled people in his care in order to fraudulently apply for and receive nearly $90,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funding.
“As a caregiver, this defendant was responsible for supporting adult individuals with disabilities in order to help them build trust and communicate with others. Instead, he used his position of trust to take advantage of his victims and steal their personal information for his own gain” said Attorney General Shapiro. “We are working nonstop to track down people who undermine the public by breaking the law and committing fraud.”
The Grand Jury determined that Fornah, 35, a caregiver from Darby, Pa., used the stolen and false information of seven disabled clients in his care across Delaware and Montgomery Counties to apply for and receive a total of $89,418.82 in PUA benefits, thereby stealing thousands of dollars of funds earmarked to assist those individuals in the Commonwealth who are in truly need.
Beginning in July 2020, Fornah used his clients’ personal information to fraudulently obtain PUA funds. Though he created phony email addresses for the victims of his scheme, the phone numbers on each application were his own. When he would obtain the loaded U.S. Bank cards, the accounts were quickly depleted through multiple ATM withdrawals and purchases at various locations in Delaware and Montgomery Counties.
In December 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (PA L&I) requested additional verification for the PUA accounts opened by Fornah. The Grand Jury learned that applicants are often asked to verify their identities through ID.me, a third party vendor utilized by the state to reduce fraud. The ID.me program allows users to provide credentials during video calls where the applicants speak with the vendor directly.
The Grand Jury observed recorded ID.me sessions involving individuals victimized by Fornah. The video calls showed that though only the victim appears on screen, it was apparent someone was off camera speaking for the individuals and showing the required identification information in front of the camera. The Grand Jury also observed that the victims appeared to be incoherent and unaware of their surroundings, and in some cases, distressed and confused at what was occurring.
In addition to submitting fraudulent PUA applications with stolen information, Fornah also fraudulently applied for and was denied PUA benefits using his own information even though records confirm he remained fully employed prior to and through the pandemic. Following this rejection by the PA L&I, he lied about his employment status to apply for the standard PA unemployment compensation benefits and received more than $14,000 as a result. Fornah also attempted to use his clients’ stolen personal identifying information to apply for unemployment benefits from the State of New Jersey.
The Office of the Attorney General investigated this case with the assistance of the United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, and the United States Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General.
At the recommendation of the 47th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, the defendant was charged with Identity Theft, Dealing in Proceeds of Unlawful Activity, Unlawful Use of a Computer, Criminal Use of a Communications Facility, Access Device Fraud, Tampering with Public Records, Theft by Deception, Criminal Attempt to Commit Theft by Deception. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Megan Madaffari. All charges discussed are accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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