Hyattsville men charged with stealing more than $1.4M in unemployment benefits
▪︎ $158,000 in stolen prepaid cards came from Maryland
Three Prince George’s County men are charged with stealing more than $1.4 million in unemployment benefits from several states, including Maryland.
The 11 News I-Team confirmed three men who live in Hyattsville now face federal charges. According to court documents unsealed in California, the three Nigerian nationals filed for unemployment benefits from four states, all using two addresses in Hyattsville.
Bank of America records show 175 prepaid cards worth more than $1.4 million total — $158,000 of which came from Maryland — were sent to those addresses.
Angie Barnett, president of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, said some sources estimate this type of fraud has gone up 3,000% since the coronavirus pandemic and catching and prosecuting these criminals is tough.
“The bad people are capitalizing on the grief and the fragility of our society,” Barnett said.
According to the court documents, investigators said surveillance pictures from various ATMs around Maryland show people matching the suspects’ descriptions depositing money from the Bank of America cards.
“The fact that we were able to see our law enforcement actually catch somebody in the act and have supporting evidence, it’s so unusual. It is really a great thing for all of us,” Barnett said. “Scammers and fraudsters are able to purchase on the black market people’s personal identifying information. We remember and reflect among all the data breaches.”
Barnett said many times, the victims are totally unaware their identity has been stolen. In this case, documents stated investigators called the victims and informed them someone filed unemployment claims using their information.
Some said they never filed unemployment claims or even ever worked in the states where benefits were approved.
“Because the scam artist, the fraudster, they used a bank account that’s not the victim’s, they used an address that’s not the victims, so it bypasses the victim,” she said.
Barnett said these types of scams have increased exponentially during the pandemic with increased state and federal unemployment benefits.
“We’re emotional, we’re fragile and our financial care and concern, and scammers take advantage of that,” Barnett said.
To help keep yourself from becoming a victim, Barnett said you should monitor your credit report and bank accounts regularly.