By Rachel Menitoff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is calling for the state to establish a centralized fraud detection center to protect public agencies from would-be scams.

Franchot said state agencies are not immune to fraud, a problem that has become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic as Maryland has received billions of dollars in federal funding.

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While that funding has helped buoy the economy, it has also painted a target on the state’s back.

“It’s constantly trying to play whack-a-mole with the fraudsters who are constantly trying to break into systems,” Franchot told WJZ.

One example the comptroller provided was unemployment claims. He said the Department of Labor has given out $14 billion to people struggling financially, but $2 billion of that was stolen.

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“That money should have gone to people in need, who are unemployed, who have no money,” Franchot said. “Instead, it went to our-of-state fraudsters and sometimes they were out of country.”

Franchot said his office has a robust fraud detection system in place, which includes sophisticated data protocols and algorithms. The problem? He said most other agencies don’t have similar systems.

That’s why the comptroller is recommending the state centralize fraud protection, which would help shore up the defenses of agencies that are particularly susceptible to fraud.

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“Crooks are attracted to money,” Franchot said. “When you put $70 billion into a state like Maryland, a relatively small state, that’s a lot of targets for these crooks to go after.”

Rachel Menitoff