Scammers steal info of Floridians who’ve claimed unemployment

Scammers are filing claims under the names and information of Floridians who have collected unemployment, even if they didn’t give it to them directly.

Kate Larsen from Naples told us she accidentally gave out her personal information on a call she thought came from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

“I noticed that the phone call was from San Antonio, Texas, and I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, I think this was a mistake,’” Larsen said.

Nine months after Larsen stopped collecting unemployment benefits, she got swept up in a scam.

“I had received a letter from unemployment that I needed to do something,” Larsen said. “But I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t been able to go in and do that, and so I thought that this was part of that.”

An automated phone message asked Larsen to verify her Social Security number and pin. After she did, the call ended.

This week, someone filed a new claim on her account.

“And it said that my debit card was pending approval, so it’s like they’ve changed my debit card number,” Larsen said.

Lately, DEO has put out multiple warnings. It will never contact anyone by automated phone call, text message, social media posts or private messages.

Lately, DEO has put out multiple warnings. It will never contact anyone by automated phone call, text message, social media posts or private messages.

But the bad guys will.

“Half of the work that I do all day has to do with fraudulent claims, helping people report them, helping people weed out if this is a real DEO page, if it’s a real phone call people, they are spoofing DEO’s phone number,” said Vanessa Brito, an advocate for people collecting unemployment.

Brito said there are more vulnerabilities to Floridians who have collected unemployment.

“This is not just about people who were desperate and give their information out,” Brito said. “This is about people who have never shared their login information, and are having their pin and login information reset. That’s a major scam.”

Amid these possible scams, a glitch with the unemployment website and the identity verification service meant to prevent fraud is keeping people from their benefits.

“They unlock; they claim; it locks; they don’t get paid; they have to wait to get unlocked to get paid,” Brito said. “Then, they claim weeks again, and … it’s a cycle.”

DEO says it’s working on it, but some people we’ve spoken to have gone as many as 10 weeks without payments.

“Every measure has really backfired on the state and on the claimants, and it’s frustrating because nobody wants to get scammed,” Brito said. “But nobody can just stop paying their bills either.”

Larsen reported the fraud.

“I feel sorry for anybody who’s relying on that and then have this happen and not have that money available to them,” Larsen said. “That would be horrible.”

Brito advises people to check their accounts every day to make sure their information is still correct, including contact information.

After we asked DEO about all the issues with fraud and, Press Secretary Andrew Nixon said in an email:

“The Department has recently implemented an alert system to notify Reemployment Assistance claimants when banking information or PIN numbers have been changed in CONNECT. The notification will come from [email protected], an official DEO email address. If claimants believe someone has stolen their identity, gained access to their account, and are now locked out, they should report this through the Reemployment Assistance Help Center, here.”

DEO also provided an identity theft toolkit which details what Floridians should do if they are a victim of identity theft and steps they should take to mitigate fraudulent activity on their account. To view the identity theft toolkit, click here.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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