The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) suspects that a recent spike in unemployment assistance claims in the state may be due to an uptick in fraudulent filings.
The U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday that Florida’s unemployment insurance claims hit their highest level since August for the second straight week, according to the Miami Herald.
The Herald said that in response to their inquiry about the spike, the Florida DEO said the increase may be due an increase in fraudulent claims.
A DEO spokesperson told the newspaper that the agency has implemented additional fraud-detection software on the mobile app it is requiring new claimants to use. She added that the state was still investigating the matter and could not comment on how many fraudulent claims may have been filed. She said that claimants are required every two weeks to re-certify their eligibility to receive benefits.
“The state takes this very seriously,” DEO spokesperson Emilie Oglesby told the newspaper. “We have noticed a significant increase in the number of new claims over the past couple weeks.”
The Herald noted that Florida’s unemployment insurance system has been sharply criticized by some lawmakers in recent months for its alleged inability to adequately assist unemployed workers.
According to the news outlet, the State of Florida has paid out roughly $21.6 billion in unemployment benefits to around 2.2 million claimants since the beginning of the pandemic.
Fraudulent unemployment claims are also plaguing other U.S. states.
California officials said recently that they believe the state has paid out $11 billion in fraudulent claims, with another $20 billion still under investigation. The roughly $30 billion in question amounts to about one-quarter of the total amount paid out by the state. The officials said many of the fake claims were filed by identity thieves from countries like Russia or Nigeria.
In early January, CNBC reported that federal and state governments were cracking down on claims after the U.S. Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Labor reported that at least $36 billion had been improperly paid out from mostly CARES Act funds.
The recently passed $900 billion follow-on package to the CARES Act requires claimants to provide additional information to prove their eligibility, including identity verification. Filers will also no longer be allowed to back-date claims to the spring.
This summer, the U.S. Department of Labor said it suspected up to $26 billion had been paid out of pandemic relief funds for improper or fraudulent claims.