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Scammers steal Collier County couple’s info to apply for unemployment benefits

Scammers are stealing information to apply for unemployment benefits, and it’s happening in Southwest Florida.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office released a warning Thursday explaining how to avoid these kinds of scams.

Meanwhile, a Collier County couple told us they’re getting unemployment checks they never applied for, and they have no clue how it happened.

It’s especially frustrating for people we still hear from every day who are missing payments they’re owed.

Linda Wallen and her husband’s identities might have been stolen, and she wants to do the right thing.

“All those beautiful people that lost their jobs, that’s where the money needs to go,” Wallen said.

About a month ago, the couple got two letters in the mail.

“They were both from the unemployment office saying that we’ve been approved for unemployment, and we never even applied for it,” Wallen explained.

The Wallens called Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to let them know, and like thousands of people struggling with the system they couldn’t get through.

“Never got any responses,” Wallen said. “We hung on the phone for half an hour every time.”

Then this week, they got two checks that were each worth $275, so they called DEO again.

“They told me that they were a month behind backed up,” Wallen said. “If we get any more checks to just hold on to them and don’t cash them, that’s all they told us, and then, it’ll take a month or two to figure it all out.”

In the meantime, Wallen is doing what she can to make it right. She’s called the IRS, the social security office and the police to have it documented as fraud.

Their lawyer recommended the Wallens keep an eye on their credit.

“We’re not rich, but we don’t need the extra little money that definitely somebody else needs,” Wallen said.

MORE:

Statement from Communications Manager Andrew Nixon at the Department of Economic Opportunity:

The Department continues to take additional proactive measures to mitigate instances of Reemployment Assistance fraud or identity theft. 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 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 appropriate next steps.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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