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Debit card scams are latest twist in unemployment claims fraud

Unsolicited debit cards for unemployment benefits sent to people who never filed unemployment claims{ } KOMO photo{ }{p}{/p}
Unsolicited debit cards for unemployment benefits sent to people who never filed unemployment claims KOMO photo

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A new twist in unemployment benefit fraud is targeting people with legitimate debit cards that are sent through the mail.

At first glance, it's hard to figure out how criminals can benefit from having a bank send a legitimate debit card to your address even though it was not requested. But investigators say it has the signs of a money mule scheme to get you to help launder stolen money.

Tony Novak and his wife recently received two ReliaCard debit cards from U.S. Bank that each displayed a different version of his wife's name. The cards, ready for activation, are alternative payment methods for people who've been approved for unemployment benefits in the state of Colorado.

"It makes no sense at all to send it to our address," said Novak, explaining that neither he nor his wife have every lived or worked in Colorado. What's more, they say they never applied for unemployment benefits.

"Colorado unemployment was waiting for these cards to be activated so they could put money into them." Novak said.

Instead of activating the cards, he called the bank, which cancelled both cards immediately.

Unsolicited unemployment debit cards are being reported across the country.

Impostors who file fraudulent claims with stolen identifications can follow the cards since they have contact information. It's believed they may pose as state officials and claim there was an error and instruct you to return the cards which allows they collect cash in your name.

The Identity Theft Resource Center says the suggestion that you return a debit card is a major red flag.

"There's no reason whatsoever to send that back to someone." said James Lee, who work at the resource center. "So if somebody asks you to do that, that's a tip that that is a scam. Alert the state, and follow the procedures that the individual states have for reporting fraud."

That's exactly what Novak did, before contacting KOMO News to help warn others.

"I thought, 'Well this is very strange.' so I'd better check it out." he said.

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In Novak's case, the bank included a form for people who receive debit cards and did not apply for unemployment benefits. That's evidence that banks and states are trying to stay ahead of the criminals who are targeting debit cards recipients. States and financial institutions are working with the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI in the ongoing unemployment fraud investigation.

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