Lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives are reportedly working on passing a bill that would address weaknesses in the current law addressing unemployment compensation fraud. The bill, which has been unanimously passed by the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee, imposes stricter penalties for violations.
Of particular concern are cases of unemployment fraud based on identity theft. The Department of Opportunity, which is responsible for handling unemployment claims, recorded 9,600 claims of unemployment fraud based on identity theft in 2013, and the problem is said to have become worse.
The bill would increase the length of time an individual who attempts fraud is barred from pursuing unemployment benefits. The measure would also increase penalties from one year to five years upon a first offense. A second offense would be increased to 10 years, and a third offense would result in a lifetime ban. Another change is that the definition of “racketeering activity” under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would be changed to include unemployment benefits fraud.
According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, unemployment benefits fraud—or reemployment assistance fraud—is defined as knowingly making any false statement or failing to disclose a material fact in order to obtain or prevent payment of benefits in violation of Reemployment Assistance law. This form of fraud can take various forms, including intentionally failing to report earned wages or misrepresenting the reason for unemployment.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at unemployment compensation fraud and why those faced with such charges should work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.