Skim any newspaper these days and you’re likely to find a story about identity theft. Some of the breaches are massive in scope: 83 million identities from JP Morgan, 80 million from Anthem Healthcare, 70 million from Target, and 24 million from the federal Office Personnel Management. Why has this crime become so prevalent? First, because it’s easy: in our digitized age, our personal information is everywhere, and it’s not very well protected. Second, the crime is profitable: stolen identifies can be used to open credit card accounts, drain checking accounts, take out loans, purchase medical care, and steal tax refunds and public benefits like unemployment insurance.
Make no mistake about it: Data breaches and the resulting fraud have reached crisis levels. Organized criminal enterprises are, on a vast scale, using stolen identities to defraud public benefits systems. The negative effects of this crisis are stark: It harms those whose identities are stolen, it robs the social safety net of limited resources, it imposes unwarranted costs on taxpayers, and it undermines public confidence in government.
The Department of Economic Opportunity, which administers unemployment insurance in Florida, takes these crimes very seriously, and we have made fighting fraud a top priority. While technology makes public-benefits fraud easier, the good news is that it also provides new tools for fighting such fraud. In early 2014, DEO developed and implemented a digital system that analyzes unemployment-claims data and detects patterns of fraud. The results are revealing. In just eighteen months, we’ve identified more than 110,000 fraudulent claims, representing $470 million in potential benefits. (In 2014, Florida paid a total of $840 million in unemployment benefits.)
The taxpayers of Florida, and across the nation, need to know that only those who legitimately deserve public benefits are receiving them. DEO can’t do this alone, but we are dedicated to working with our partners in this state and across the country to safeguard all of the hardworking Floridians who bear the burden of public-benefits fraud.
Authored by Director Jesse Panuccio, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
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