Tallahassee, Florida - Imagine your employer telling you someone has applied for unemployment benefits in your name. It's happening in Florida thousands of times a year. 10 Investigates the number of fraudulent employment claims and finds some personal information is easily available.
Identity theft is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry and Florida is at the epicenter. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Sunshine State leads the nation in identity theft. Tampa ranks third in the country.
"It's very scary," said 10 Investigates executive producer Melissa Rancourt. She was notified recently that her personal information had been compromised. Rancourt said the Human Resources director contacted her. "She showed me an email from a company that said I had filed for unemployment benefits and it had my name and Social Security number."
The Department of Economic Opportunity, or DEO, is the state's unemployment agency and said that there has not been any compromise of personal data on their system. Rancourt learned this when she contacted the DEO. "[I] asked, 'How did this happen?' They said somehow, someone, somewhere stole your information and entered it online."
Since November 2013, more than 7,000 people have been arrested for applying for fraudulent unemployment benefits. The DEO said it is proactively fighting fraudulent claims, turning them over to the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate as a federal crime.
According to DEO spokesperson Jessica Sims, "Because those claims were referred, that stopped more than $31 million that could have been paid out had those claims made it through the entire system."
Cyber security expert Adam Sheffield said Florida's elderly population and high number of snowbirds visiting the state on a part-time basis are prime targets for identity theft, but it can happen to anyone. According to Sheffield, "It's really a prime market for identity theft."
Sheffield said the most valued piece of information the crooks want is a Social Security number. The easiest way to get someone's Social Security number is the mail. Instead of going through a computer, Sheffield said ID thieves will often go through a neighborhood and steal mail that looks like it might have the number, because it's a lot easier to get it though traditional mail than online.
Applying for unemployment benefits in Florida requires entering a birth date -- which people often reveal on social media -- and a driver's license number. 10 Investigates uncovered the Division of Motor Vehicles makes it a snap to figure out.
There is a formula the state uses: if you have someone's birth date and year, along with their middle initial, you can figure out their driver's license number.
And we did just that with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
When we showed the mayor his driver's license number, he said, "Shame on the Division of Driver's Licenses. They ought to make it as tough as they can for anybody to get that."
But it's that easy, and most people don't know they are a victim until it is too late.
While it's very hard to protect yourself from identity theft before it happens, there are a couple of things you can do. Make sure your social media settings are as private as possible, so only those you know can access your information. If you do online banking, get all the information electronically. Never reply to an email asking for your account numbers and, if you are victim, continually monitor your bank account credit card transactions and get a credit report immediately. You are entitle to a free one every year.
We are also including tips on where not to swipe your debit card because there have been many instances lately of massive data breaches.
So, here's a list of three places you should never use your debit card:
First, gas stations, because criminals install card skimmers at the pump.
Second, restaurants. Sneaky servers use handheld skimmers. Some even write down your card number. Also, many restaurants use older computer systems that are easy to hack which is what happened in the Target breach.
And, lastly, online.
Use a credit card instead of debit because the fraud protections are better.
Most criminals who install these skimmers only need a universal key that could open up the entire front of the pump and place the skimmer inside. It is suggested you use cash or pay inside for gas if anything looks suspicious at the pump.