TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state is losing millions of dollars a month to people lying about their unemployment status. 600 people have been arrested in Florida this year for unemployment compensation fraud. The state is ramping up efforts to catch the crooks, and once they do they're plastering their pictures online.
Some of the people arrested lied about their employment status to receive state benefits. Others simply withheld information about why they lost their job.
They all found themselves behind bars, convicted of unemployment compensation fraud. The crime is a third-degree felony and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, plus a five thousand dollar fine.
The state is posting pictures of those arrested online in an attempt to scare off copycats. The mug shot gallery went up earlier this month after Governor Rick Scott merged the unemployment office with other jobs agencies to form the new Department of Economic Opportunity; the mission: more accountability and more jobs.
Scott says the pictures are part of those increased accountability efforts.
"We can't have anybody abusing the system. Because of all of that abuse, you as a taxpayer pay for it," said Scott.
Last year the state discovered $32 million dollars in unemployment fraud. So far this year, criminals have stolen more than $26 million, but the state is getting better at catching the fraudsters.
"If you are considering committing unemployment compensation fraud, don't do it. You can go to prison. It is a felony. You can be fined thousands of dollars and it can ruin your life," said DEO spokesman Robby Cunningham.
While the total dollars stolen is on pace to surpass last year's losses, the good news is arrests are up. So far this year, 600 people have been arrested. Florida has 75 investigators throughout the state searching for people ripping off the system and changes to the filing process are making it harder for people to steal.