Laquita Brown was convinced her Department of Economic Opportunity unemployment account was secure until February 11, the day she discovered her personal identification number and her bank account had been changed without her knowledge.
“When I looked, all of my information had been changed,” she said. “How can they act like me when they need my name, address and all that stuff?”
Brown, a home health aide worker, is one of hundreds of unemployed Florida residents victimized by identity thieves who purchase “packets” of stolen data from the dark web to then hijack unemployment benefits in Florida and across the country.
The Orlando Secret Service Cyber-Task Force told News 6 the imposters are tapping into what is easily a multi-billion dollar industry.
“These aren’t breaches that just happened a couple of months ago,” special agent-in-charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said. “These (identities) were actually obtained over the last five to seven years.”
Brown’s case is unique because her account was unlocked, locked and unlocked again.
Three days after she spoke to News 6, on March 18, the DEO was able to unlock her account, yet a few days later someone changed the account information again.
Her DEO account shows she had been receiving direct deposits to a Way 2 Go debit card but that was switched to a BankCorp checking account she never opened.
“If it wasn’t for my kids helping me out I would probably be out on the street,” Brown said.
O’Brien-Buster said the identities could have come from a number of identity breaches sold for pennies on the dollar.
“The fraudsters are obtaining and buying identities in blocks,” she said. “The people in those blocks are from Florida, Georgia and other parts of the country.”
News 6 reported the latest issue with Brown’s account to the DEO’s reemployment team.
Emilie Oglesby, the director of external affairs for the DEO, said the agency is aware of the account issues.
In a statement, she wrote: “The Department is aware of an issue where some claims are being re-locked in CONNECT after their identity has been verified through ID.me. We are working diligently to resolve the issue and unlock claims that have been re-locked as quickly as possible.”
Oglesby said claimants should “check their CONNECT account every 24-48 hours for updates.”
If you need to file an unemployment fraud issue go to https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance or https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/UIIDtheft.
If you have an unemployment issue, email firstname.lastname@example.org.