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State working with federal prosecutors to go after people using ID theft to file fraudulent unemployment claims

150,00 fake Florida unemployment claims in January
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Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 17:38:00-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — More Floridians are reporting unemployment fraud to the state after receiving an unemployment check they never applied for.

I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern asked Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis what is being done to assure employers’ tax dollars are going to those who need it most.

RELATED: Identity theft spike leads to increase in fraudulent unemployment claims in Florida

Patronis said his office works hand-in-hand with the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“We still are the watchdog over the taxpayers' dollars," Patronis said. “Not only are we seeing fraud of state dollars, but we’re also seeing fraud of federal dollars.”

The CFO gave a warning to those scamming the system.

“The unemployment system was intended to help people during a COVID pandemic. It was a disaster. But if you’re taking advantage of the state of Florida, the state of Florida will put you in jail. Simple as that," Patronis told the I-Team.

In Tallahassee on Monday, DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle told the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response there was an attempt to file nearly a million fraudulent unemployment claims at the beginning of the year.

RELATED: Lawmakers hear results of internal audit on Florida's unemployment system

Eagle said the uptick in claims at the beginning of the year was something the DEO initially attributed to the extension of the CARES Act.

“But as we watched that closer, we realized that something was really amiss,” Eagle said.

DEO’s fraud detection system flagged hundreds of thousands of claims in January — 150,000 of the 250,000 claims submitted in January, Eagle said.

“We then put a stop to another 700,000 other claims from being fully ingested,” Eagle told lawmakers.

Eagle said he is aware that some instances of unemployment fraud did go through and DEO is working with federal and state authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, reiterated the need to protect Floridians’ identities.

“From the number of constituents I have had conversations with, this is a major problem,” Harrell told Eagle.

DEO has told the I-Team 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.

RELATED: Florida launches new form to report unemployment fraud

"No two ways about it, you’ve got something that you know it’s not yours, don’t cash it in, call DEO, call us, let us get that money back into the state’s coffers where it should be, so it can benefit those who truly need it who applied for it," Patronis said.

Click here for the DEO Online Fraud Form

In addition to contacting DEO, consumers can also call our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) for assistance on unemployment fraud.

DEO recommends the following tips to avoid Unemployment Scams:

  • If you get a phone call from someone on behalf of DEO telling you that you need to pay to file for any assistance, whether for your business or you personally, do not give any information to the caller or send money.
  • There are several websites that advertise they can provide you free money. Some of those sites offer services free of charge and others charge for the services. These websites often ask for confidential or private information such as your Social Security number, address, work history and email address. Use only the official DEO website: FloridaJobs.org.
  • DEO will not ask for personal information or for you to verify your eligibility or identification by email or text message.
  • If you receive a call from someone representing themselves as an employee of DEO requesting your credit card number and personal information in order to be hired, do not provide the information.
  • If you receive an email requesting and promising to pay you to complete the survey, do not complete the survey. This is likely an attempt to get your personal information.

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:

  • 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.