‘Helpless’ feeling for unemployed Tampa Bay man who claims benefits were hacked

8 On Your Side

INVERNESS, Fla. (WFLA) – A recent Department of Economic Opportunity report indicated the state received more than one million more claims last year than the previous eight years combined.

That pandemic-primed influx of claims has caused delays in payments and other well-documented issues with Florida’s unemployment system.

“It’s unreal,” Inverness resident James Moitoso said.

Moitoso has been out of work for most of the past year and says his unemployment checks stopped coming in late March. Like thousands of others, his calls to DEO have not been answered.

“You can’t talk to anybody,” Moitoso said. “Again, you can’t talk to nobody. It’s impossible.

His wife Virginia figured out what happened by taking a second look at Moitoso’s DEO statement.

Direct deposit was his chosen payment method but that was unknowingly switched to what the state calls the Way-2-Go debit card.

“We never signed up for it,” she said.

DEO has advertised how to switch from Way-2-Go to direct deposit, which is said to be “the fastest way to recieve benefits.” 

That’s why Moitoso chose direct deposit last year, but he claims no one will tell him how to switch back or take his claim that his account was hacked.

“I’ve tried over a dozen times and all you get is a computer,” Virginia said. “I was on the phone for nearly an hour.”

“And then we heard thank you for calling, and they hung up,” James said.

Eight On Your Side sent emails to DEO and called, and spokesperson Andrew Nixon said he will look into Moitoso’s claim but he has not said how prevalent this type of fraud is.

“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity takes reemployment assistance fraud seriously,” Nixon wrote in an email to 8 On Your Side. “Floridians may report Reemployment Assistance fraud online by completing the Department’s online fraud form.”

In February, the DEO acknowledged the agency had flagged nearly 50,000 claims for potential fraud, but no one has said how many cases have involved benefits getting redirected.

Eight On Your Side also directed Moitoso to a “stop fraud” link on DEO’s website. 

He said will keep trying to straighten out his account, but added the bills are piling up as the wait for answers continues.

“It is helpless,” Virginia said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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