New fraud fighting program helps battle ID theft

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Every year, thieves target thousands of welfare recipients, stealing their identities and depriving them of the benefits in which they desperately need.

Florida leads the nation in this type of identity theft. The state's welfare recipients are the latest target of identity thieves, who steal from those who need it most. The state says it needs to stop.

"For some reason, Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft in the nation," said David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families.

Nine of the top 10 cities in the country for identity theft are in the Sunshine State.

"In 2011 and 2012, the Division of Public Assistance Fraud investigated just more than 6,600 cases of suspected public assisted fraud," said Jay Etheridge, deputy chief financial officer over law enforcement.

A new state program will now make it more difficult for thieves to steal people's identities and gain access to state benefits.

The savings? $60 million dollars a year.

"You're saving months and potentially years of money going out the door," Wilkins said.

Before, thieves would use people's identities to log on to the benefits website where they would have the EBT cards illegally sent to their house. The new system will stop crooks before the cards are sent out.

The state is reaching out to local police for help.

"I want to put those individuals who choose to commit these crimes -- I want to put them on notice," said Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones. "If you commit the fraud, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

The program will also target people who lied to get benefits they don't deserve.

Ninety-two percent of cases that were investigated over the last two years were charged or disqualified for future state benefits.

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