ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – An Orange County school teacher discovered her name was used to apply for unemployment benefits in the state of Massachusetts even though she had never applied for unemployment benefits in that state.
Melissa Armel, a teacher in the Orange County school district for the past 25 years, told News 6 she was “very shocked” to read the notice from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) that indicated she had applied for benefits on June 21.
“It’s 39 weeks, a total of $10,413, " she said, " I have no connection to Massachusetts and I have not applied for unemployment benefits.”
Armel said she immediately contacted Massachusetts’ Fraud division to report an impostor had assumed her identity.
“It’s completely legitimate and says I filed on June 21,” she told News 6. “That’s ($10 thousand) is a lot of money.”
The Massachusetts attorney general has been investigating bogus applications by impostors in Massachusetts but these are the first known cases involving stolen identities from Florida.
To date, News 6 has reported that three women in Central Florida have received notification of benefits each for the full amount of more than $10,000.
A Titusville woman we will identify as Heather received a notice that she applied for Massachusetts unemployment benefits in late May.
She told News 6 she did apply for and is receiving benefits from the Deptartment of Economic Opportunity but that she never applied for benefits out of state.
“I never worked for Massachusetts, never visited there, not even when I was a child,” she said.
In the Massachusetts benefits notices, the women are advised to verify their identities to obtain the jobless benefits so it is not clear if the state already sent money to an impostor.
Monica DaSilva, an employee with Marriot Hotels, was the first to report the Massachusetts unemployment issue.
She is convinced the security breach that saw 98 Social Security numbers accidentally sent by a DEO employee to a third- party company could be the explanation as to how her name was used in another state’s unemployment system.
“It’s too much of a coincidence to me,” she said. “I always lived in Florida, I have never been in Massachusetts.”
Chris Hadnagy, an expert in security data breach cases, said the dark web is being tapped to provide crucial personal information to illegally file for unemployment benefits.
Hadnagy told News 6 there are hundreds of stolen data files available on the dark web.
“They’re just going out and applying for benefits using your name because they have everything on you, Hadnagy said. “They fully expect these things to be shut down they’re just waiting for a couple of checks to clear the account.”
Massachusetts’s fraud website reports “criminal enterprises are using stolen personal information to try to file fraudulent unemployment claims,” as part of what it has termed a national unemployment fraud scheme.
If you believe your identity has been used to apply for benefits in the state of Massachusetts you can file a fraud report here.