WKMG news manager’s identity used to collect jobless benefits in Ohio

State confirms Federal PUA accounts targeted by cyber-thieves

WKMG News 6 assistant news director Jason Olson is the latest known Central Florida victim of a multi-million-dollar scheme that uses stolen identities to steal unemployment benefits in all 50 states.

The veteran journalist received a notice from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services dated August 2021 that indicated the department was authorized to “waive the repayment of unemployment overpayments.”

Ironically, the notice was delivered to his Central Florida home more than 1,000 miles away from Ohio.

“I haven’t lived in Ohio -- my entire life, born and raised in Central Florida,” Olson said. “It’s really puzzling. I’m married to a CPA. We’re very protective of our information.”

The Orlando Secret Service says it is likely Olson’s name was one of the hundreds purchased on the black market for pennies on the dollar.

Special Agent-in-Charge Caroline O’Brien Buster who leads the agency’s Cyber-Task Force has tracked millions of dollars in stolen taxpayer dollars obtained by international impostors.

“They’re buying it in blocks,” the veteran agent said. “This is an accumulation of information that’s been obtained over the last five to seven years.”

Bill Teets, Director of Communications for the Ohio JFS, told News 6 the stolen identity scheme “often occurred in the PUA system, in which communications with claimants was all done online.”

In an email to News 6, Teets wrote, in part: “What is likely the case here is that some Florida residents are receiving a hard-copy letter from us, telling them how to apply for an overpayment waiver. As most correspondences was previously done via email, this may be the first time they are aware that someone used their name or address to file a claim.”

According to Teets, Ohio recently sent the overpayment letter to addresses listed in accounts where an overpayment of unemployment insurance was made. Someone who has not been a recipient of unemployment from the State of Ohio should not be concerned about having to repay.

Still, you need to report the theft to the state you receive the notice from so that authorities can “flag the fraudulent claims.”

Here are the steps you need to take:

Step One: Report Identity Theft to ODJFS

Complete this secure online form. ODJFS will issue confirmation emails to everyone who files a report with information about identity theft and protection. The agency will process the reports, conduct investigations and, if necessary, issue corrections to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on 1099s issued to victims.

Step Two: Report Identity Theft to the U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Labor recommends that victims of unemployment fraud notify not only to their state unemployment office, but also the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud. Doing so can help law enforcement stop future unemployment identity theft. Filing a report with the National Center for Disaster Fraud also will notify the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, which is the primary agency responsible for investigating unemployment fraud. You may not receive a response back after submitting this information.

Step Three: Protect Your Identity

Many resources are available for victims of identity theft to help them protect their identities. ODJFS strongly urges anyone who suspects they may be a victim of identity theft to take appropriate action to protect themselves. Here are some resources we recommend:

  • Review your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Federal Trade Commission Resources at identitytheft.gov
  • Place a free one-year fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies online or through their toll-free numbers. The bureau you contact must tell the other two.
  • Equifax: 800-525-6285
  • Experian: 888-397-3742
  • Trans Union: 800-680-7289

If you have received a notice from OHIO, go to https://unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/IdentityTheft/. A fraud hotline has also been set up at (833) 658-0394.

If you have an unemployment issue, email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com or text the words 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.