Maryland officials have halted another fraudulent scheme to collect unemployment payouts, this one quite brazen: the fraudsters used the names Gov. Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and other top officials in an attempt to get benefits.
In addition to the governor and lieutenant governor, the scam also involved fraudulent applications in the names of seven cabinet secretaries, including Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson, who oversees the unemployment system, state officials said Wednesday.
“This is another example of how this kind of fraud can happen to anyone, and we need to remain vigilant,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.
The incident is under investigation by federal authorities, Hogan said.
The applicants used complete stolen identities, including addresses and birth dates, so they passed an initial verification, officials said. But they were discovered as fake once the Department of Labor’s computer system generated a report that goes to whoever an applicant lists as their former employer.
The Department of Labor does weekly cross-checks between unemployment applications and state personnel records.
In July, state officials said they worked with federal investigators to halt an identity theft scheme that sought more than $500 million worth of unemployment benefits. That scheme involved more than 47,500 fake claims.
The investigation resulted in thousands of legitimate claimants having their payments put on hold. It took months for state unemployment officials, already overworked with a deluge of claims, to sort out those who rightfully qualified for benefits from the fraudsters.
Many of the affected legitimate claimants lived in other states but qualified for benefits in Maryland because they previously worked here. Many were required to send additional documentation of their identity to the state to get their payments restarted.
No one has been charged in that case, which is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General.
So far this year, state labor officials said they flagged 115,356 out-of-state claims as potentially fraudulent. Of those, 105,738 never uploaded documentation or were denied after doing so.
State labor officials also had identified 98,769 in-state claims as potentially fraudulent. Of those, 76,388 were denied.
To date, Maryland has paid out more than $8.2 billion in unemployment benefits, as the coronavirus pandemic leads to record job losses.