More and more Floridians have contacted the ABC Action News I-Team with a similar concern — they’ve received an unemployment check in the mail from the Department of Economic Opportunity. But they never applied for unemployment.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern spoke with a man from New Port Richey who said he wasn’t getting anywhere with the state on the suspected unemployment fraud and potential identity theft until the I-Team started pushing for answers.
“I received a check from the unemployment office that I never filed for,” Gary Wharton said.
Wharton, like many who have contacted the I-Team, struggled to get through to someone at DEO.
“Finally got through to somebody and they told me that they were brand new, and they have no idea how to help me. And she gave me a number to call, which was exactly the number I just called,” Wharton said. “I was aggravated, 100%. Aggravated that these people have no clue what they're doing and these checks are going out to people that don't per say need it or applied for it. And that people are actually really needed or not getting the checks. And that's who I feel bad for.”
DEO has now launched a new online fraud form for people like Wharton to send their information.
A spokesperson for the department told the I-Team the form was created “in an effort to streamline” the process for reporting unemployment fraud or identity theft to the state.
“To me, it's like the state doesn't care to even respond on what we're supposed to do next. And that's why I called you, because of your report,” Wharton said.
After the I-Team sent Wharton’s information to the DEO, he said the state put a hold on his account. Wharton learned the DEO was asked to send the unemployment checks to an address that wasn’t his.
“I hope the whole outcome of this is that the people that actually need the money, get the money,” Wharton said.
Full Statement from DEO:
"In an effort to streamline the Department’s process for reporting instances of Reemployment Assistance fraud or identity theft, DEO has introduced an online form that gives Floridians another method to report instances of Reemployment Assistance fraud or identity theft. If someone is aware of any instance of Reemployment Assistance fraud or believes they are a victim of Reemployment Assistance identity theft, please direct them to the Department’s Reemployment Assistance Fraud page found here [floridajobs.org] and have them click on “Online Fraud Form” to notify the Department.
The Department takes Reemployment Assistance fraud seriously and it is important that all possible instances of Reemployment Assistance fraud and identity theft are reported. Once a report of fraud or identity theft is received, the claim will go through verification processes, which aides in the detection of fraudulent activity. If fraudulent activity is suspected, the Department reviews the claim and determines the appropriate next steps."
Tips from the FBI:
Make yourself aware of methods fraudsters are using to obtain personal identifiable information and how to combat them by following security tips issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, including:
- Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks [us-cert.gov]
- Protecting Against Malicious Code [us-cert.gov]
- Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft [us-cert.gov]
- Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report [consumer.ftc.gov] at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
- Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
- If you suspect you are a victim, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft related to fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, report the fraud to law enforcement, state unemployment insurance agencies, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your employer’s human resources department. The FBI encourages victims to report fraudulent or any suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov [ic3.gov]. You may consult identitytheft.gov [identitytheft.gov] for help in reporting and recovering from identity theft.