Maryland's Department of Labor is investigating a bizarre unemployment insurance scam. A Baltimore-area man claims to have received at least 18 fraudulent unemployment insurance debit cards from "investors," according to local news station WMAR-2 News.
"That's one, that's two, three, four. That's five, that's six, seven, eight. That's a total of nine cards," said Dr. Keenan Cofield, who is a state lobbyist, a taxpayer - he said stuff like this makes him "cringe."
He told WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii that a total of 18 unemployment debit cards were mailed to his address. He said the debit cards were individually sent to him but addressed to other people.
"Each one of them has a Visa card, each one of them has a name," Cofield said.
He was communicating with some people inline about the need for investors in a few of his projects. The Baltimore-area man said at least two people through a messenger app offered to invest with him.
"And things were moving on, and they said that the funding would be coming by cards. So, next thing I know, I see these strange-looking Maryland Department of Labor and Regulation unemployment. [There's] nobody at this house with these names," said Cofield.
Cofield communicated with the investors through Google Hangouts. He shared 30 pages of the conversations with Sofastaii:
The sender wrote:
"Once cards are activated All you have to do is drive to an ATM machine and make withdraw sir"
The sender instructs Cofield to keep 60 percent of the balance on the various cards and send the other 40 percent back, which will be split between the sender and someone named Bryan.
Cofield asked whether this was fraud.
The sender replied:
"Sir believe me sir. this is not fraud sir ok. … Trust me It not a fraud sir"
Here's more of the convo:
"They have not said which ones were which, but they said the minimum was $500 and at least two or three of those cards are $10,000," Cofield said.
Cofield said nobody in his household is unemployed and became suspicious of how the unemployment debit cards, loaded with a lot of taxpayers' money, and in envelopes under the seal of "Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
What this is, as Cofield discovers, is a "money mule operation." In an operation like this, Cofield is the "go-between" entity that hands the dirty money then sends a certain portion back to the fraudsters.
"When I saw the Department of Labor and Licensing and Regulation unemployment, oh no, this is a scam. This is a big scam and this is a huge problem," he said.
Cofield has since contacted law enforcement about the money mule operation.
"It's sad. Nobody knows where to go, so this is why I say guess what, Mallory is on this thing about unemployment, and that's why I picked up, and that's why we're at Channel 2 now," said Cofield.
During the pandemic, State Police and the FBI have warned about increasing unemployment scams. The FBI ranks Maryland 5th in the country for "money mules" in 2019 despite being a highly prosperous state.
"The system is still messed up. There are people who have still not got their legitimate benefits. This lets you know not only somebody in that pile probably is missing their card, but the system is compromised," said Cofield.
Maryland's Department of Labor expects to eliminate debit cards by April and switch to direct deposits.
On a national level, federal officials admitted that tens of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits were disbursed and squandered by fraudsters during the pandemic.
One fraudster, who made a million dollars in an elaborate unemployment scam in California, released a rap video about it.
As the plot thickens in the search for who the fraudsters are in Cofield's case - he said one of the "investors" had a family member working at the Tennessee Bank of American Maryland Unemployment debit card processing center, according to Fox 5.
Fox 5 reports on the fraud: