Unemployment hijackers target Florida widower’s jobless benefits

News 6, DEO fraud investigators restore account, $11,000 in funds

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Port St. Lucie man’s five-month battle to recoup more than $11,000 in state and federal unemployment benefits may finally be resolved this week, thanks to the Department of Economic Opportunity and News 6.

DEO records obtained by News 6 confirm Michael Radak lost access to his DEO benefits on March 16, when cyber-thieves changed the personal identification number, security questions and the bank accounts designated for deposit of the funds in his Connect account.

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A DEO investigator conducted forensics of the two checking accounts Monday and determined that there was “no misdirected funds” to either account but that Radak was missing 11 weeks in back benefits.

Radak’s account is one of an estimated 250,000 claimants targeted by cyber-thieves this year.

Orlando Secret Service Special Agent Matthew Britsch told News 6 agents have tracked “hundreds of thousands” in rerouted Small Business Administration and unemployment funds every week.

“In our opinion, it is international organized crime,” Britsch said. “They’re OK with taking small amounts (because) in a large quantity, it makes it profitable for them.”

News 6 presented Radak’s case to DEO fraud investigators Monday morning. Less than an hour later, the account had been unlocked, email and banking information updated and his PIN reset.

Radak told News 6 his wife, Nicole, passed away last February. Then, in March, COVID-19 followed, forcing him out of his job as a draftsman for area kitchen cabinet shops.

“A lot of the smaller cabinet shops that I was working for are gone,” he said. “My business that I own is pretty much non-existent.”

With mounting bills and no income, Radak said he was forced to sell his home in Port St. Lucie to make ends meet.

“If I didn’t have the money from selling my house after my wife died, I would have lost everything. Right now I’m broke,” he said.

The DEO has been working to unlock accounts targeted by hackers at a rapid clip.

The resent “force reset” of accounts was designed to block thieves from stealing funds.

“Those weeks will be available for him [Radak) to claim by the end of the week,” a DEO investigator told News 6.

In a phone message sent to Make Ends Meet Monday evening, Radak said, “Thank you to the DEO investigator and News 6 for helping me get this resolved. You guys are amazing.”

If you have an unemployment issue, email your claimant number or the last four numbers of your social security number to makeendsmeet@wkmg.com, or text Make Ends Meet to 407-676-7428 with the information.

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.