Fraudsters likely stole $45.6 billion from U.S. COVID unemployment insurance program

FILE PHOTO – An empty hospital bed resides in the former Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, U.S., April 12, 2022. Photo taken April 12, 2022. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – Fraudsters likely stole $45.6 billion from the United States’ unemployment insurance program during the COVID-19 pandemic by employing tactics such as using social security numbers from deceased persons, a federal watchdog said Thursday .

About a year ago, nearly $16 billion in potential fraud had been identified. The report released Thursday by the Inspector General of the United States Department of Labor identified “an increase of $29.6 billion in potentially fraudulent payments.”

The scammers allegedly filed billions of dollars in unemployment claims in many states at once, while some of them were getting benefits using the identities of dead people and inmates who were ineligible for assistance. They also relied on suspicious emails that were difficult to trace, the watchdog said in its report.

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“We found that 205,766 Social Security numbers of deceased individuals were used to make claims for UI (unemployment insurance) pandemic benefits,” the report added.

The United States’ unemployment relief program began in 2020 in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this year, the US Justice Department tapped federal prosecutor Kevin Chambers to lead the Department’s efforts to help investigate fraudsters who used the pandemic as an excuse to criticize government aid programs. read more

In May 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The United States investigates many fraud cases related to U.S. government assistance programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance, and Medicare.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors charged 47 defendants with stealing $250 million from a government aid program designed to feed children in need during the pandemic.

A Minnesota nonprofit, Feeding Our Future, was accused of orchestrating the plot. The founder, Aimee Bock, denied wrongdoing.

In March, the Justice Department said it had filed more than 1,000 cases of crimes involving unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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