ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida residents who have received unemployment benefit notices or deposits from states like Massachusetts, Arizona and Pennsylvania, may be “unwitting” accomplices in a major scheme to steal jobless benefits and small business loans from every state in the U.S., according to the U.S. Secret Service Orlando office.
News 6 started tracking cases that involved of out-of-state benefits delivered to Florida residents in May and June.
The first known case was reported on June 15 when News 6 viewer Monica DaSilva received approval for unemployment benefits from the state of Massachusetts.
In all, News 6 has uncovered more than a dozen cases of stolen identities and fraud both in state and out of state.
Special Agent Roy Dotson Jr. said the benefits scheme started emerging in Central Florida in May just as state unemployment divisions were releasing a high volume of benefits to furloughed families impacted by the COVID-19 economic fallout.
Because the agency is in an active investigation, Dotson limited his comments on the Secret Service investigation.
“It’s happening to all 50 states in some manner,” Dotson said from his Orlando office. “We have many federal and state partners working with us just because of the sheer volume.”
Dotson said there are “hundreds of millions” of dollars at stake and that the Secret Service is currently investigating “hundreds” of cases across the country.
“We are out following every lead,” Dotson said. “Some of that involves criminal investigation I can’t speak to at this point.”
Steven Maingot, 20, of Winter Park first told his father that a $4,000 deposit in his savings account was deposited without his knowledge.
But when Secret Service agents interviewed Maingot, he admitted a mystery woman offered a deal to use his identification to apply for a small business grant in exchange for 20% of the money.
Maingot originally claimed the SBA told him the government application had him listed as the owner of a construction company.
News 6 shared the case with the Secret Service and will continue to share cases that fit the identity theft profile benefits scheme.
“I haven’t done anything with the money, I haven’t touched the money,” Maingot said.
Dotson said so-called “mules” are fooled into depositing funds into accounts and then transferring them to another account, many times out of state.
“There’s several individuals involved that do not have knowledge to the full extent of what is being asked of them to do,” Dotson told News 6. “It was the perfect storm and available for fraud.”
Dotson said the agency has recouped hundreds of millions of dollars and will continue to pursue these cases.
If you think your identity has been stolen to apply for benefits or you have another unemployment issue just email firstname.lastname@example.org