BALTIMORE — A Maryland worker recently received over a dozen unemployment insurance debit cards, but he never applied for benefits.
“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.
In addition to nine others that were delivered to his address after he sat down with WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
“Each one of them has a Visa card, each one of them has a name,” Cofield said.
The sender’s address is the Bank of America unemployment processing center in Gray, Tenn. The cards were individually mailed to Cofield but addressed to other people.
“And they have told me that they can issue more,” said Cofield.
Cofield doesn’t believe he received the cards by mistake. He’s been seeking an investor for various projects and was contacted via email by an interested party.
“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 has been communicating with the investor through Google Hangout text messages. He shared 30 pages of texts 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”
“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.
It’s likely a money mule operation. Cofield is the go between. He gets his hands dirty by withdrawing the funds and passing along a portion to fraudsters. However, he knows better.
“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,” said Cofield.
He went to the Department of Labor on Eutaw Street and North Calvert and left several messages with the governor’s office.
“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.
Sofastaii connected him with Maryland State Police and asked the Secretary of Labor about this last week.
“We are obviously working with State Police, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the Federal Office of the Inspector General in an ongoing investigation,” said Secretary Tiffany Robinson. “I was just on a call with State Police yesterday where I did hear about multiple claims all being related to one address and that’s something that they’re tracking down.”
Robinson said the department has blocked more than 150,000 fraudulent claims since January. However, scammers are still finding ways to cheat the system.
“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.
The department is hopeful cases like this won’t be as common when the state eliminates debit cards and switches to direct deposit in April.
Maryland State Police is investigating this case.
If you receive unsolicited unemployment insurance debit cards, report it to the Department of Labor and your local police department.