Woman says her Florida unemployment account was hijacked by cyberthieves

Designated bank account switched to steal benefits days before start of school year

An unemployed single mom from Port St. Lucie was stunned to learn her Department of Economic Opportunity account had been accessed and altered with the help of her own personal information and security questions.

Christine Colangelo, an unemployed office worker, said the imposter changed her designated bank account to a checking account with JP Morgan Chase.

“Who is going to correct my banking information?” She asked. “How do I reset my PIN now?”

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Colangelo, a mother of a 9-year old girl, contacted Make Ends Meet last week after she received an email from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity that confirmed her account had been changed.

The email read in part: ”This email serves as a notification that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has processed a request to make a change(s) to your CONNECT account.”

Colangelo said she had nothing to do with the updated account.

“I know I’m not the only one with these questions,” she said, “When is it going to be fixed, what’s going to happen to our money, money, that may already have been deposited to another account?”

Colangelo is one of the thousands of Floridians who have reported their accounts have been altered by imposters who established new PIN numbers and security questions.

Most of the accounts are rerouting funds to new ACH or Automated Clearing House checking accounts. Victims who have contacted News 6 said they had no connection to or knowledge of the bank accounts.

Drew Bazemore, supervisor of the visual forensics’ lab for the U.S. Secret Service Orlando field office told News 6 the checking accounts are part of an elaborate shell game.

“They move it X number of times to make it tough for law enforcement to track and, eventually, I would imagine (they) move out of the United States,” Bazemore said.

On July 16 the DEO reported nearly 58,000 accounts had been targeted by 3rd party thieves between April and July of this year.

Special Agent In Charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said it is possible Colangelo’s account was compromised which would explain the access to her social security number, PIN and personal security questions.

“If she were part of the breach they would have access to all of that,” O’Brien-Buster said.

News 6 advised Colangelo to contact Id.me to verify her identity. That was completed by Monday before 6 p.m. Her account should be unlocked by Friday so she can establish a new security protocol as well as a bank account and PIN.

If you have an unemployment issue email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com or text make ends meet to 407-676-7428.

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.