MIAMI – With so many people out of work and desperate for cash, Local 10 News has heard about people with inside access demanding payoffs to fast-track unemployment claims.
The past three months have been long and frustrating for Alison Theriot. The pandemic impacted her job supplying uniforms to cruise ships.
"I come home daily and I say to my husband I just want to cry," she said.
When Local 10 News first spoke to her, she had been waiting more than 11 weeks for the state to approve her unemployment claim.
“It keeps saying that I’m in adjudication, and adjudication is 3-6 weeks and here we are 11 weeks and I’m still in adjudication,” Theriot explained.
Then a colleague told her he got paid and that she could too. She just had to text a number for help.
“So I said great, can I have the phone number,” she said. “I figured it was a DEO (Department of Economic Opportunity) agent.”
The person named Damelis could only be reached by text. She asked who referred Theriot and requested her social security number. Desperate, Theriot instead shared her pin and account information.
"That was my mistake right there," she admitted. "She comes back ten minutes later she says, 'Great news, we can fix the problem. We just need you to Zelle 150 dollars to Oscar.'"
The messages said the money was to pay ‘Oscar’ for his time and work. When Theriot hesitated, she got this response: “Maybe for you it’s better to go to an unemployment office and fix by yourself.”
When we asked the DEO about this case, a spokesperson called it a scam.
Theriot suspects the so-called 'Oscar' is a subcontractor working on behalf of the state and profiting from the access.
"They have to be able to get to the DEO website and then getting extra money on the side," Theriot said.
The DEO told Local 10 in an email: "We have provided this information to our Inspector General's Office and they are taking a look into it."
Theriot says she never sent the money but wonders how many others have.
“People are grabbing at straws because they don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s getting to the point where, we’re all going to lose our homes, we’re all going to lose our cars.”
This story does have somewhart of a happy ending, as Theriot updated Local 10 and said that after we contracted the DEO for this story, they reached out to her, and her claim has now been processed. She received her money on Tuesday.
The DEO provided Local 10 with some helpful information:
The Department of Economic Opportunity wants ALL Reemployment Assistance claimants to be vigilant about ensuring the information in their CONNECT account is accurate. If a claimant notices that their information is inaccurate or has been changed they should report it to the Department immediately. The Department has information about Reemployment Assistance Scams and Identity Theft located here, http://www.floridajobs.org/Reemployment-Assistance-Service-Center/reemployment-assistance/claimants/identity-theft. In addition, claimants can report fraud or potential scams by calling the Customer Service Center at 1 (833) FL APPLY or emailing ReportRAScam@deo.myflorida.com.