Published On: Sat, Mar 14th, 2015

Florida seeking help battling identity theft, fraud – like Rashia Wilson

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Executive Director Jesse Panuccio sent a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez calling for additional action to combat identity theft and public-assistance fraud. In his letter, Director Panuccio outlined concerns about the rapidly growing problem of organized criminal enterprises using stolen identities to defraud public-benefits systems, including Unemployment Insurance.  South Florida has become a national hub for these crimes.

DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said, “Increasingly, criminal gangs are targeting hardworking Floridians by stealing their identities and the benefits that are meant to help families as they look for work.  DEO is working hard to stop this fraud, but more attention to this problem in Florida is urgently needed.”

Rashia Wilson, The First Lady of Tax Fraud, from Florida

Rashia Wilson, The First Lady of Tax Fraud, from Florida

Identity theft and related fraud are widespread problems that impose significant costs and affect many private and public institutions.  Personal information obtained through identity theft is used to defraud businesses and government programs, including Unemployment Insurance, known as Reemployment Assistance (RA) in Florida.

Over the past two years, DEO has made preventing, detecting, and combatting RA fraud a top priority.  DEO has implemented a state-of-the-art detection program—the Fraud Initiative and Rules Rating Engine (FIRRE).  The results are alarming.  In 2014, the first year of FIRRE’s operation, DEO identified nearly 70,000 fraudulent claims.  So far in 2015, DEO has identified another 24,000 fraudulent claims.  Had full benefits been paid on these claims, hundreds of millions of dollars would have been illicitly stolen from the RA program.

DEO successfully partners with the USDOL Office of Inspector General and the state’s U.S. Attorneys to investigate and prosecute suspected cases of fraud and identity theft.  For example, over the past two years, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has publically announced six federal prosecutions for RA fraud.  DEO has also recently worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to devote additional resources to this growing problem.

In his letter, Director Panuccio states that “given the national scope and increasing costs of fraud in federally created public-benefits programs, the Department believes the federal government needs to do more—much more—in this area.  More funding, better coordination, and better technology are urgently needed.”

Read Director Panuccio’s full letter here.

About DEO

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity combines the state’s economic, workforce, and community development efforts.  This new approach helps expedite economic development projects to fuel job creation in competitive communities.  For more information, including valuable resources for employers and job seekers, please visitwww.floridajobs.org.

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