The Secret Service told reporters Friday it recovered $286 million in Covid-19 relief loans meant for small businesses that were stolen by fraudsters, according to multiple outlets, adding to the total of billions of dollars in pandemic relief funds that investigators say were fraudulently obtained.
The Secret Service said Friday fraudsters used fake or stolen identities to apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program and created accounts with the online bank Green Dot to hide the theft and move the money.
The Secret Service and Green Dot worked together to identify $286 million linked to 15,000 fake accounts.
Roy Dotson, lead investigator with the Secret Service for Pandemic Fraud, told reporters there were “many actors” and a “myriad of potential suspects” responsible, including potential international conspirators as well as domestic, according to NBC News.
The recovery was a “direct and necessary response to the unprecedented size and scope of pandemic relief fraud,” added Kevin Chambers, director for COVID-19 fraud enforcement at the Justice Department, according to the Associated Press.
$100 billion. That’s how much had been stolen from multiple pandemic relief programs, the Secret Service estimated last year.
The Covid Economic Injury Disaster Loan program was aimed at helping small businesses and private nonprofit organizations recover from economic disaster as a result of the pandemic. The program provided up to $2 million in assistance to small businesses. But as much as $80 billion may have been stolen from the program, comprising about 10% of the roughly $800 billion in funds given out, NBC News reported earlier this year. The Secret Service has launched thousands of pandemic-related fraud probes and has seized more than $1.2 billion in stolen funds. The White House allocated roughly $5 trillion of Covid relief to Americans through three separate packages during the pandemic to provide assistance to those struggling as a result of the economic shutdown. But investigators have said designing the programs to deliver aid quickly and rely on self-reported information increased the risk for fraud.
The federal government has tasked some 500 people with investigating pandemic-related fraud cases, and has charged 1,500 people with defrauding the programs, with more than 450 convicted so far, according to the New York Times. Federal investigators still have thousands of fraud tips to wade through, the Times reported.
Secret Service Recovers $286M in Stolen Pandemic Loans (Associated Press)
Prosecutors Struggle to Catch Up to a Tidal Wave of Pandemic Fraud (New York Times)