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Can I Go to Jail for Unemployment Fraud?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

July 27, 2020

If you lost your job through no fault of your own and you meet certain eligibility requirements, you might be qualified to receive unemployment benefits. The compensation paid to you is to help cover the costs of necessities while you seek re-employment. To apply for benefits, you must submit your personal and previous work information to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

If you falsify information during the claims process to receive benefits you’re not entitled to, you could be charged with unemployment fraud under Florida law. The penalties are severe and include prison time. Additionally, you could be facing prosecution under federal statutes, which means you may face even greater punishments.

The Penalties for Unemployment Insurance Fraud

Florida Statute 443.071 provides that it’s unlawful for anyone to knowingly make a false statement or representation when applying for unemployment benefits. The law applies not just to individuals but also to employers who prevent payment of benefits to a qualifying individual or reduce their required contributions.

There are several ways you could be accused of falsifying an unemployment claim, which include but are not limited to:

  • Collecting benefits when you knowingly did not qualify
  • Failing to report wages received while collecting benefits
  • Using another person’s information to qualify for benefits

In Florida, unemployment insurance fraud is a third-degree felony. If you’re convicted of the offense, a court can sentence you to up to 5 years’ imprisonment and/or fine you up to $5,000. But, as mentioned before, those aren’t the only penalties you could face.

Federal Charges Resulting from Unemployment Fraud

Let’s think of submitting a false unemployment claim as the surface-level offense. It’s the one on top that is visible. But to get to that surface, several other acts were likely done. These deeper-level acts may also be crimes. And often, they are pursued under federal laws.

A few of the federal criminal charges that can arise from unemployment fraud include:

  • Mail fraud: Perhaps you mailed in your unemployment claim. If you did this knowing that you were falsifying or misrepresenting information to get benefits you weren’t entitled to, you could be charged with mail fraud. Upon a conviction, you could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
  • Wire fraud: Suppose you submitted your claim online or emailed questions to the Department of Economic Opportunity. Because you used electronic communication to further your fraud scheme, you may be accused of wire fraud. As with mail fraud, a conviction is punishable by a maximum 20-year prison term.
  • Aggravated identity theft: Many instances of unemployment fraud involve submitting another person’s information to receive benefits. If you somehow obtained someone else’s date of birth, Social Security Number, or other personal data and used it on your claim, you’ve committed aggravated identity theft. If you’re convicted, you will be penalized for the crime you committed, plus be ordered to a mandatory 2-year prison sentence.

Navigating the unemployment claims process can be confusing. You may have inadvertently submitted incorrect information and ended up accused of an offense.

If you have been charged with a state or federal crime, contact Hager & Schwartz, P.A. at (954) 840-8713 for defense from our Fort Lauderdale lawyers.