LAKE MARY, Fla. - It’s the latest ploy by scammers – taking full advantage of overwhelmed unemployment systems around the country, including Florida – to steal millions of dollars.
It's adding an extra burden to Florida's overwhelmed unemployment system.
“I think it takes a special sort of piece of garbage to make fake claims when there are so many people that are waiting to get their legitimate claims paid,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “It’s money that’s being taken away from people who need it and it slows down the process for legitimate claims which to me at this point is even worse.”
These criminals, believed to be part of a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring, use the personal information of real-life people to apply for unemployment benefits. That information has been exposed by numerous massive data breaches in recent years, and scammers can easily find it for sale on the internet.
“Every time a breach occurs, think about the basic information that’s released, you have name, date of birth, home address, email address, phone number, social security number,” said Chris Hadnagy, a cybersecurity expert.
Hadnagy, who understands the mind of scammers and hackers, said that personal information can then be used by the criminals to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits.
“You have all the things you need, now you go the unemployment office, you fill out all the details that are needed for his unemployment, but when you go to the direct deposit spot, instead of putting Joe Smith’s actual real banking info, you put your routing number, and your account number.”
He said that allows the money to go directly into the bank accounts of these criminals overseas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been made aware of this issue, as the state attempts to filter out the fraudsters as much as possible.
“We’re getting people from other countries who are applying, from other states who are applying, and so that all goes through the process,” the governor said.
The United States Secret Service has already spotted these types of fraudulent unemployment claims in seven states, including Florida. Federal officials believe this unemployment fraud could cost states hundreds of millions of dollars.