BALTIMORE — Usually through the mail or their employers, working Marylanders are learning their identities were stolen and used to obtain unemployment insurance benefits. And when they try to notify the Maryland Department of Labor, they’re unable to get through to anyone.
“And then I got my BEACON card in the mail and I was like what?” said Dr. Kimberly Shafer-Weaver.
Shafer-Weaver is one of a dozen names WMAR-2 News has sent to the department in the last two months and requested that the claims are blocked.
“My husband also got a letter!” said Shafer-Weaver.
These claimants reached out to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii as a last resort when they never heard back from the department.
“I tried contacting them for four or five hours, could not get through,” said Connie Lee Grill. “I felt really panicked, I felt violated. It was traumatizing, I didn’t know where to go from there.”
A few days later, Grill discovered someone had used her information to try and take out a business loan.
“She informed me that they had my correct Social Security Number and my birth date, and I told [the Small Business Administration] it was fraudulent,” said Grill.
Unemployment insurance fraud has been a widespread issue since the federal programs launched last April, and Maryland State Police warn that these scams are growing.
“This includes the scheme you reported on where random citizens have received random unemployment insurance debit cards they never applied for,” said Maryland State Police spokesperson Ron Snyder.
Last month, Dr. Keenan-Cofield contacted WMAR-2 News after he had received 18 Bank of America unemployment insurance debit cards in other people’s names, and he never applied for benefits. Sofastaii helped Keenan-Cofield get in touch with Maryland State Police.
“We can tell you that he did provide 26 debit cards for us to go through as part of our investigation,” said Snyder.
Maryland State Police recommends victims report fraud to the agency where it originated.
Dr. Shafer-Weaver tried.
“I’ve been going nuts. I mean this started with an email I received from my work on February 2nd,” said Shafer-Weaver.
She also tried the governor’s office.
“I went on to Governor Hogan’s site, went on and filled out the form that they asked and I called and left a message and asked that they call back. I did that four or five times and never received anything,” said Dr. Shafer-Weaver.
She then contacted Sofastaii and within several hours, the department confirmed the fraudulent claim had been blocked.
“I do expect somebody to take five minutes after four weeks to let me know so I’m not worrying about it,” said Shafer-Weaver. “It shouldn’t be that hard and what I would actually like to see is some type of reform. We either have better protection against it or there’s better reform to help rectify it.”
If this happens to you, email the Department of Labor’s fraud address at email@example.com. Or email Sofastaii at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And be sure to freeze your credit with the three credit bureaus.
WMAR-2 News also requested information on how many emails the department has received about fraud and how many people are handling those emails. They didn't have exact numbers but said they've dedicated additional resources to the Benefit Payment Control Unit.
As of March 23, the department has flagged 691,252 potentially fraudulent in-state and out-of-state claims. Of these claims, 610,413 (88.31%) have been confirmed as being fraudulent and have been blocked.