The U.S. Secret Service announced Tuesday that criminals used fraudulent COVID-19 relief applications and other means to steal nearly $100 billion in pandemic benefits.
“The Secret Service currently has more than 900 active criminal investigations into fraud specific to pandemic-related relief funds,” Roy Dotson, the assistant special agent in charge of the national fraud investigation, said in a statement. “That’s a combination of pandemic benefits and all the other benefits programs too.”
The criminals took advantage of several pandemic relief programs established by the CARES Act, the agency said, which included the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and direct stimulus payments to individuals. Funds administered through statewide unemployment insurance were also stolen.
“Every state has been hit, some harder than others,” Dotson said. “The Secret Service is hitting the ground running, trying to recover everything we can, including funds stolen from both federal and state programs.”
So far, Secret Service agents have recovered $1.2 billion and secured the return of more than $2.3 billion in stolen funds through Automated Clearing House reversals, the agency said. Roughly 100 individuals involved in the fraud have been arrested.
“Can we stop fraud? Will we? No, but I think we can definitely prosecute those that need to be prosecuted and we can do our best to recover as much fraudulent pandemic funds that we can,” Dotson told the Associated Press.
States have also reported high amounts of fraud, with California saying that criminals may have stolen as much as $31 billion in unemployment benefits in 2020 alone.
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