ANNAPOLIS, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - Maryland’s Department of Labor will be transitioning to direct payments in April 2021 as authorities continue to investigate an increase in unemployment insurance scams. This includes one case being looked into right now where a Baltimore-area man claims to have received at least 23 fraudulent unemployment insurance debit cards from "investors."
"I don’t know if that’s a created name, factious name, real name or otherwise, but that really upsets me," said Dr. Keenan Cofield, "Also as a state lobbyist, a taxpayer, that really makes me cringe because it’s like, ‘Woah, what happened?’ How can you allow this at this level, you know, as far as checks and balances, something is not right that anyone can send that many cards to very specific places…"
Cofield told FOX 5 he’s a former Bishop, a state lobbyist and has a non-profit. About eight months ago, Cofield claims he shared information looking for investors for a few projects. The Baltimore-area man said someone replied. He was communicating with at least two people through a messenger app, who offered to help.
"The next I know, I look and these cards start popping up. These Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation cards, and I said, ‘Hey, these not – must not be for me ‘cause they’re not. Nobody here has – we’re not unemployed. And the fact is … uh um, something’s not right," said Cofield.
He told FOX 5 about a month ago, he began to receive packages with multiple letters inside.
The individual envelopes were addressed to different people. He also claimed he never applied for unemployment benefits due to the pandemic.
On the envelopes is a "Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation" return address and a Visa debit card. The lot of cards allegedly contained thousands of dollars.
Cofield first spoke to a Baltimore news station last week and at the time, claimed to have received at least 18 debit cards. He told FOX 5 on Tuesday, he has since received at least five more.
Maryland State Police confirm for FOX 5 the matter is under investigation.
"Do not. Please, do not – I stress this – do not try to use them, attempt to use them or try to get somebody to get you the information or set up a pin. You’re going to go to jail," said Cofield, urging people to immediately report anything like this to police.
Cofield said he was instructed to withdraw the cash and is supposed to give someone a cut. He believes based on his conversations with the people wanting to "invest," that they have some sort-of inside connection. One of the people, Cofield said, shared that his mother works at the Tennessee Bank of American Maryland Unemployment debit card processing center. He also received packages with an Tennessee address.
State Police and the FBI have been warning of these types of scams – where were scammers steal identities to submit fraudulent unemployment claims and then use people as "money mules," trying to funnel the stolen money through them. This could include using your bank account or having you go to a bank or ATM to process the transactions.
A Department of Labor spokesperson told FOX 5 the claims flagged by Cofield were blocked as they, the department’s Office of Inspector General and Maryland State Police investigate.
The Maryland Department of Labor spokesperson also said over 85% of the claims flagged have been confirmed as fraud.
The FBI said Maryland was 5th in the country for "money mules" in 2019, despite being the 19th most populous state.
Cofield told FOX 5 he turned-in the first 18 debit cards to Maryland State Police last Friday and plans to submit the other five sooner than later.
Here’s more from Maryland’s Department of Labor Spokesperson Fallon Pearre:
Increase in Nationwide Fraud - With the record number of unemployment insurance claims filed and the additional federal benefits available during the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the nation have continued to see bad actors and fraudsters using illegally obtained data, usually complete identities from previous data breaches, to file fraudulent unemployment insurance claims. The state’s unemployment insurance system has NOT been compromised in any way. This is an issue throughout the country, and there was a recent federal indictment regarding debit card fraud.
Over 85% Flagged Claims Confirmed Fraud - We post weekly fraud data on our website, which is available at http://www.labor.maryland.gov/employment/uifraudstats.shtml. This data is broken down by in-state and out-of-state claims. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 447,817 in-state and out-of-state claims have been flagged for fraud and 384,651 (85.89%) have been confirmed as being fraudulent.
Investigation with Multiple Law Enforcement Partners - Dr. Keenan Cofield received numerous fraudulent debit cards that were mailed to his address. The fraudulent claims have been blocked and the Maryland Department of Labor is investigating in coordination with the Maryland State Police, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Report Fraud - If someone believes that their information has been used to fraudulently file an unemployment insurance claim, they should contact UI’s Benefit Payment Control Unit by completing a "Request for Investigation of Unemployment Insurance Fraud" form and e-mailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over 96% of Claims Processed - As of the week ending February 20, the department has paid $10,000,984,421 in state and federal unemployment insurance benefits. Of the 897,900 complete claims filed, 861,596 (96%) claims have been processed with 725,448 (80.8%) claims receiving payment and 136,148 (15.2%) claims being denied. The number of claims pending has decreased to 36,304 (4%). Nearly all of the pending claims are disputed and pending further investigation. These claims cannot be processed until they are investigated due to conflicting information provided by the claimant and the claimant’s previous employer.