VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – The Secret Service is looking for 22 men and women residing in Volusia and Brevard counties whose names were used in an apparent unemployment benefits scheme that targeted the Express Employment Professionals franchise in Daytona Beach, which is one of 800 registered franchises in the country.
News 6 confirmed every person from that list of 22 people who applied for unemployment benefits with the Department of Economic Opportunity never worked for the company.
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Special Agent in Charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said agents have tracked full names, social security numbers and addresses based on information provided to the agency by News 6.
“It’s not random,” O’Brien-Buster said. “I find it very unusual that 22 people have filed at the same company that never worked there.”
Agents with the Secret Service have identified contact information of all 22 names listed on the DEO unemployment claims but up to this point, they have been unable to contact them by email, phone or in person.
“I do believe they are victims of identity theft,” Obrien-Buster said. “They just don’t know it.”
The Franchise is registered in Florida under the name We Hire LLC.
The company, which is co-owned by William and Michelle Brown, is a one-employee operation. It hired a receptionist on January 11, 2021.
Michelle Brown contacted News 6 after she was unable to contact the DEO to dispute the claims.
“I know that there are people out there hurting and they need unemployment (benefits)” she said. “But they’re entitled to unemployment from the right company.”
Brown said many of the claims started showing up last August and someone has been collecting money that was neither hired nor fired by We Hire LLC.
“So my premiums are going up based on claims that are not accurate and I can’t report otherwise,” Brown said.
News 6 alerted the DEO’s fraud division and provided all 22 names and social security numbers listed on the claims. The claims are being looked at by fraud investigators.
Brown said the first claims were dated June but did not arrive at her office until September.
The deadline for a company to dispute a claim is 20-days after filing.
The Secret Service is convinced additional companies across the state are being targeted.
Emilie Oglesby the Deputy Director of Communications for the DEO said the department has identified an increase in filed claims and has taken new “proactive steps” to mitigate fraudulent claims in the CONNECT system.
“The Department will deploy ID.me’s technology solution for new claimants applying for Reemployment Assistance benefits and will soon fully integrate their identity verification process in CONNECT. This identity verification integration is in addition to current fraud prevention measures and will help to ensure claimants’ identities are secure and verified before their claim is processed.”
The IRS confirmed taxpayers who never applied for unemployment benefits may start receiving tax form 1099-G because of the identity theft surge.
The forms will reflect taxable unemployment benefits paid to someone using your name and social security number.
IRS spokesperson Alejandra Castro urged taxpayers to contact the DEO to dispute the payments.
“You have to contact the state,” Castro said. “Make sure the state sends you an updated form.”
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If your company has received a claim for benefits from someone who has never been employed by you contact the U.S. Secret Service at [email protected]
The DEO said claimants may report reemployment assistance fraud online by completing the form which can be found here. Additionally, claimants may call 1-833-FL-APPLY (1-833-352-7759), or email [email protected]. If a claimant received a 1099-G form and did not file a claim for reemployment assistance, they should report this online at 1099GRequest.myflorida.com. For more information about reemployment assistance tax forms visit the DEO’s website here.
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