Unemployment impostors using Floridians’ identities to steal state benefits

Victims tipped off when Ohio, Pennsylvania debit cards were delivered to Florida

When Wendy Devours received a Visa debit card from U.S. Bank in late February, she immediately contacted the number on the back of the card to cancel it.

Devours said she suspected her identity had been stolen but she never thought her name was being used to steal unemployment benefits from the state of Ohio.

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“Someone had opened a fraudulent unemployment benefits account in my name and was getting benefits,” Devours said. ”I have not lived in Ohio since 1986.”

Devours, a clinical laboratory scientist with AdventHealth, said she is very careful with her banking and credit records and knew she had to freeze her accounts.

“(I) called the police department, called all the credit agencies,” she said. “I called as many people as I thought I should to bring attention to this.”

It turns out Devours is one of hundreds of Florida residents whose identities are being used in an elaborate scheme to steal money from state unemployment agencies including in Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Pennsylvania.

“If you look at my Social Security number, you can easily see that I live in Florida and that I’m working,” a frustrated Devours said, adding she has no idea how they would have gotten her identity or information.

News 6 viewer Dwaine Rank said he had been receiving notices from both Pennsylvania and California unemployment offices “three to four weeks at a time.”

“I received 40 envelopes all with my correct address, every one with a different name,” he said. “I also received a debit card from U.S. Bank about the same time but did not connect the two for several months.”

News 6 contacted U.S. Bank to make sure the fraud team closed the debit account.

Kristin Kelly, assistant VP of corporate communications for U.S. Bank, said it represents 15 states and is aware of a surge in fraud coast to coast.

“U.S. Bank issues ReliaCard at the direction of its state agency clients,” she said.

The bank recently added an online form to enable the swift closure of a ReliaCard on its website.

The Orlando U.S. Secret Service has received 10 to 20 reports of fraudulent unemployment debit cards each week since January 2021.

Special agent-in-charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said the Service has noted a steady increase in fraudulent debit cards from Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It appears the thieves are both domestic and international and most likely purchased packets of stolen identities to execute the benefits theft.

According to O’Brien-Buster, very few of the fraudulent bank cards are from Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

The DEO uses Comerica Bank’s ‘s Way-2-go Debit cards.

“If you received one of these cards, you are a victim of identity theft,” she warned. “This is like a secondary fraud, you can guarantee they’re a victim of another fraud.”

If you receive a U.S. Bank debit card you can close the account by clicking here.

If you have an unemployment issue, email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.