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Hundreds of legitimate claims frozen in unemployment fraud investigation

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Posted at 5:52 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 18:23:35-04

BALTIMORE — The recent discovery of a massive criminal enterprise targeting Maryland's unemployment insurance system resulted in the suspension of more than 47,500 fraudulent claims totaling over $501 million.

However, not all of those claims were filed by con artists.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii has received emails from a number of people who discovered over the July 4 weekend that their accounts had been frozen.

Kimberly Brocklehurst tried for months to get her unemployment insurance benefits. When she finally received her debit card, she was notified that it had been deactivated due to suspected fraud.

"I had battled with them for 12 weeks, 14 weeks, I had sent in all the paperwork, they had asked for, paperwork from my job things that had my identity on it so I thought it was okay," said Brocklehurst. "It’s good that the fraudulent people were stopped but I don’t understand why people who had already established claims got caught up in this entire thing and why it can’t be resolved quicker than it is."

In a news conference last week, Governor Larry Hogan said a few real people were caught up in this crackdown but benefits would be quickly restored.

Sofastaii asked the Department of Labor how many legitimate claims had been impacted, but the agency did not say.

In a statement, a spokeswoman wrote:

When our department initially detected the unusual increase in out-of-state claim activity, select out-of-state claimants had their Bank of America debit cards cancelled and were prompted to verify their identity by uploading additional documentation to their BEACON One-Stop portal.

The investigation is still ongoing, but our staff is working to quickly review the uploaded documentation and reinstate all verified accounts for legitimate claimants, so a new debit card can be issued by Bank of America as soon as possible. The new debit card will provide access to the legitimate claimant’s prior balance and any additional benefit payments. Impacted claimants will receive communications within their portal once their claim has been verified.

She added that they have a dedicated and expanded team working as quickly as possible to manually verify the documents, which is resulting in hundreds of out-of-state claims being verified and reinstated each day.

Michael-Armani Bell said she's going on three weeks without her benefits. She uploaded documents on July 5 verifying her identity, but hasn't heard anything since.

"I need my money again. It’s been three weeks, so it’s been pretty hard on me and my family," said Bell.

Aniya Hyatt also submitted the required documents as soon as she was notified her debit card had been deactivated.

"I still haven’t heard anything back from them, no emails. I call everyday. I dedicate two hours, no response," said Hyatt.

RELATED: Impostor uses Maryland man's identity to steal unemployment insurance benefits

Hyatt and Bell may have been flagged for their out of state addresses. Hyatt is a college student in Maryland. Bell is a Howard University graduate who worked as an ophthalmology technician in Rockville before the pandemic.

An unusual increase in out-of-state claims is what triggered the investigation, however, Brocklehurst has been in her Maryland home for 40 years.

"I have no idea why my claim was flagged," said Brocklehurst.

All three women said they're glad the state took action to protect the state's trust fund, but now they want the agency to prioritize reinstating legitimate claims.

"Without my Maryland unemployment pay that’s due to me, I can’t make a payment on the house and I think I have til the end of the week at this point," said Brocklehurst.

Claimants with further questions can contact the department’s Benefit Payment Control Unit by emailing ui.fraud@maryland.gov.