Nearly $100B Stolen in Pandemic Relief Funds
Nearly $100 billion at minimum has been stolen from COVID-19 relief programs set up to help businesses and people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, says the U.S. Secret Service, the Associated Press reports. Most of the total is attributable to unemployment fraud. The Labor Department reported about $87 billion in unemployment benefits could have been paid improperly. The Secret Service has seized more than $1.2 billion while investigating unemployment insurance and loan fraud and has returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds by working with financial partners and states to reverse transactions. The agency has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic fraud, with cases in every state; 100 people have been arrested.
The Justice Department has prosecuted over 150 defendants in more than 95 criminal cases and has seized over $75 million in cash proceeds derived from fraudulently obtained Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds, as well as numerous real estate properties and luxury items purchased with the proceeds. One of the best-known programs created through the March 2020 CARES Act, PPP offered low-interest, forgivable loans to small businesses struggling to meet payroll and other expenses during pandemic-related shutdowns. Early in the pandemic, law enforcement focused on fraud related to personal protective equipment, the Secret Service said. Authorities have now prioritized the exploitation of pandemic-related relief after federal funding through the CARES Act attracted the attention of individuals and organized criminal networks worldwide.
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