- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has warned that hackers may have stolen personal information for possibly tens of thousands of residents seeking or receiving unemployment benefits.

DEO revealed the security incident Friday in messages it sent to claimants with accounts on the department’s online Reemployment Assistance Claims and Benefits Information System, also known as CONNECT.

“The Department discovered that malicious actors were targeting claimant accounts via the CONNECT public claimant portal,” the department said Saturday in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times.

A total of 57,920 claimant accounts were targeted between April 27 and July 16, when DEO became aware of the incident, the department explained in an email.

DEO said information contained in targets accounts “may have been accessed,” including possibly social security numbers, driver’s license number, bank account numbers, contact information and more.

Sensitive data such as the kind contained in the targeted accounts can be exploited by criminals to conduct identity theft and other crimes.

It was not clear to what extent the hackers were successful in stealing any of that sensitive data. DEO said “targeted accounts may have been accessed by an unauthorized party” but did not specify further.

“There is no evidence of any other unauthorized access and no indication of related malicious activity on the Department’s internal networks,” it said in an email,

DEO said it locked targeted accounts upon learning of the incident and improved security controls. It said it also notified several other state offices and three credit reporting agencies and paid for a year’s subscription of identity protection services for affected claimants.

“While states continue to battle significant attacks on unemployment systems across the nation, the prevention of fraud remains a top priority for the Department,” DEO told The Times. “Florida is a leader in identifying and preventing unemployment fraud, and we will continue to take necessary precautions to protect Floridians.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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