Featured Stories

UPDATED: Unemployment Agency Reports Data Breach; ID Verification Tool Planned

The state agency responsible for overseeing unemployment claims said Thursday that a recent data breach affected some applicants for reemployment assistance.

A statement from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity explains that residents who were impacted by a “data security incident” have been notified.

DEO spokeswoman Paige Landrum adds that the issue was addressed within an hour of staff becoming aware of the incident.

She says the agency is making free identity protection services available to affected individuals “in an abundance of caution,” and advises them to immediately report any unauthorized activity on their financial accounts.

“At this time, we have not received any reports of malicious activity,” Landrum reiterates.

She did not specify how many people were affected by the breach.

Applicants for unemployment benefits are required to provide their Social Security numbers, addresses and other personal information.

A letter from the DEO provided to Tampa television station WTSP by an applicant states the incident occurred in April and that no banking information was involved.

“In April 2020, some information associated with a Reemployment Assistance claim submitted under your name was unintentionally sent to a private email server owned by a third party performing work on the agency’s behalf,” the letter reads.

It continues, “Within one hour after we became aware of the error, we confirmed with the third party that the information was deleted from their email server. It is extremely unlikely that this information was viewed or accessed by any other third parties.”

The document also explains that the information included the person’s full name and Social Security number.

Earlier this week, Gov, Ron DeSantis said more than 97 percent of the nearly one-million eligible applicants have received a combined $2.7 billion in claims.

He went on to say that more than two-million claims were either duplicates, incomplete applications, or were submitted by ineligible “gig” workers and independent contractors.

Meanwhile, Jon Satter, who serves as the DEO’s unemployment chief, says an identity verification tool is in development to help clear the backlog of duplicate and incomplete applications.

“We’re standing up, and it will be in the next couple days, an identity verification tool,” he explains. “It’s 2020. People should be able to go online and verify their identity.”

The tool, which is in the testing stage, was created in partnership with Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It is expected to be ready by next week.

“And that, hopefully, will clear a relatively large backlog,” Satter adds.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Thursday that an estimated 223,927 initial claims were submitted in Florida during the week that ended May 16.