PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A spike in identity theft is leading to more fraudulent unemployment claims and costing Florida taxpayers millions.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern has spent the last year pushing for answers to your unemployment problems and found out the steps you need to take to protect your information.
Like many, Rosaria Tormenia, of St. Pete Beach, never thought she'd become a victim.
“I received an email from my employer letting me know that unemployment benefits had been submitted on my behalf," Tormenia said. "It didn't seem right because I'm, you know, happily employed."
That's how Tormenia came to find out her identify had been stolen.
The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) told the I-Team, that over the past few weeks, the department has identified an increase in filed unemployment claims. The state says it has "tools and mechanisms to monitor fraudulent activity in real time" but recently expanded a partnership with ID.me to help keep Floridians' identities secure.
Purchase orders from DEO reveal the department paid $1.7 million in tax dollars for ID.me's services at the end of December, on top of another $260,000 paid last year.
In Florida and across the country, people are receiving 1099-G tax forms -- forms detailing benefits paid to them -- who never filed for unemployment. The IRS also receives the forms, which means the government believes you were paid this money and therefore owe taxes on it.
If this has happened to you, DEO is instructing people to fill out this form: https://www.1099grequest.myflorida.com/
DEO said, as of February, ID.me's technology is being used for new people filing for unemployment. DEO told the I-Team the technology will be fully integrated in CONNECT, the state's unemployment website, "soon" to verify identities before a claim is processed.
A spokesperson for DEO told the I-Team, that the state first started using ID.me in June 2020, for people who couldn't unlock their unemployment accounts. But when there was an "uptick in submitted claims" it expanded it's use of the company to prevent fraudulent claims from being filed.
When asked about that uptick, DEO said, on average, it received 50,442 state unemployment claims a week last month. Unemployment data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows, in December, new weekly unemployment claims were about half of that, ranging from around 26,000 to 29,000 claims a week.
Tormenia is still working to secure all of her accounts.
“It’s a scary feeling because you don’t really know what else is going on," she said. “I put a block on the three major companies so that no one else can get credit off of my account. And then today, out of the blue, after I was confirmed that a block was put on my unemployment, I received an unemployment check.”
Tormenia said DEO instructed her on how to VOID the check and where to mail it.
“It’s like taking it away from people who really need it. Which is a shame because of all of that’s going on in the world right now," Tormenia said. "So I really hope that they crack down on trying to avoid this happening to anyone else."
Full statement from the Department of Economic Opportunity:
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity takes Reemployment Assistance fraud seriously. The Department has long established identity verification procedures requiring claimants’ identities to be verified prior to processing a claim for Reemployment Assistance benefits. In addition, the Department has multiple tools and mechanisms to monitor fraudulent activity in real time.
Over the past few weeks, the Department has identified an increase in filed claims, and the Department has taken additional proactive steps to mitigate fraudulent claims in the CONNECT system.
The Department has partnered with ID.me, a trusted technology partner, in 2020 and has recently expanded that partnership to help keep Floridians’ identities secure from fraudulent activity and bolster current fraud prevention measures. The Department has deployed ID.me’s technology solution for new claimants applying for Reemployment Assistance benefits and will soon fully integrate their identity verification process in CONNECT. This identity verification integration is in addition to current fraud prevention measures and will help to ensure claimants’ identities are secure and verified before their claim is processed.
For information about Reemployment Assistance fraud, visit our website FloridaJobs.org/reportfraud [floridajobs.org]. It is important that all possible instances of Reemployment Assistance are reported. Claimants may report Reemployment Assistance fraud online by completing the appropriate form, which can be found here [floridajobs.org]. Additionally, claimants may call 1-833-FL-APPLY (1-833-352-7759), or email ReportRAScam@deo.myflorida.com. If a claimant received a 1099-G Form and did not file a claim for Reemployment Assistance, they should report this online at 1099GRequest.myflorida.com [1099grequest.myflorida.com]. For more information about Reemployment Assistance tax forms visit our website here [floridajobs.org].