At least $100 billion from COVID-19 relief programs in the U.S. has been stolen.
CBS News reports that the Secret Service made the estimate based on data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration, with funds being stolen from the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. So far, around $2.3 billion has been retrieved and 100 suspects have been arrested.
The federal agency also announced the new role of the national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator, who will supervise these fraud cases. “I’ve been in law enforcement for over 29 years and worked some complex fraud investigations for 20 plus years, and I’ve never seen something at this scale,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Dotson told CNBC. Dotson was selected for the position.
According to the Secret Service, there are over 900 open investigations connected to pandemic-era fraud. “There’s no doubt that the programs were easily accessible online. And so, with that, comes the opportunity for bad actors to get into that mix,” Dotson said. “It was necessary to try to get these funds out to people that were truly hurting, and no fault of anybody.”
“It’s a wide range because the pot was so big,” he continued. “You not only have your typical transnational organized groups and domestic organized groups, criminal groups, but you have individuals that decided to take advantage of that. … We’ve mapped out kind of some of the different characteristics of different groups.”
Though the $100 billion is about 3 percent of the $3.4 trillion the government allocated for COVID relief, Dotson said “the sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals.” A majority of that number is unemployment fraud, with the Labor Department reporting that around $87 billion in unemployment benefits was erroneously paid out. These cases don’t encompass the COVID fraud cases that the Department of Justice is prosecuting.