Fraudsters target unemployment benefits in Tampa Bay area - WFLA News Channel 8

Fraudsters target unemployment benefits in Tampa Bay area

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PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Unemployment benefits are being targeted by fraudsters using stolen identities to file fake claims, News Channel 8 has found.

Frank Thune, a machinist working in Pinellas Park, said he found out his identity was used when his human resources manager asked him if he’d filed an unemployment claim.

“I asked the unemployment people – I said, how does this happen?” said Thune.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Opportunity said authorities are working to recover about $420,000 in potentially fraudulent claims paid out since November 2013. Over the same period, DEO stopped 4,700 potentially fraudulent claims, stopping $62,000 from going out, she said.

There are reports of unknown suspects using the identities of residents across the Tampa Bay area, including an attorney in Tampa, a human resources manager in Sarasota and a handful of teachers in Pasco County.

The identities of five teachers, including one substitute, were used to file unemployment claims, said Pasco County schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. However, Cobbe said the district, which has thousands of employees, does not believe the cases are connected.

“We don’t think it’s somebody inside the district,” she said.

Victims, like Thune, are often finding out about the crime from their current or former employers, who are notified of the claim by the state.

Although several said they were told the fraudster did not get any money on their behalf, reports with various law enforcement agencies show those who filed the claims intended the money to go to locations including an address in Miami and a non-existent one in Clearwater.

In Hillsborough County, about a half dozen people have reported the crime.

Investigators are working with the state, but there appear to be some challenges.

“We're getting information from them,” said Corp. Bruce Crumpler of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “There's a learning curve and some growing pains going on right now with what information we're still struggling through that process.”

With the history of how criminals have used stolen identities to file fake tax returns in the Tampa Bay area, Crumpler said his office is looking at this crime seriously.

“We don't want it to be an epidemic,” he said.

Related Content: Florida unemployment rates drop to 6.2%

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