Nearly $100 billion has been stolen in COVID-19 relief funds from programs established to support businesses and people impacted by the government’s response to the pandemic, the United States Secret Service revealed on Tuesday.
The Secret Service said the “release of federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act” attracted “individuals and organized criminal networks worldwide.” The service has made investigating the exploitation of pandemic-related relief a top priority.
The agency named Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAIC) Roy Dotson of the Jacksonville field office as the National Pandemic Fraud Recovery Coordinator. Dotson will work with financial institutions and money services businesses, United States Attorney Offices and other agencies to investigate “large-scale seizures of illicitly obtained pandemic relief funds,” including unemployment insurance, U.S. Small Business Administration loan and grant programs, and other support programs.
“The Secret Service currently has more than 900 active criminal investigations into fraud specific to pandemic-related relief funds,” Dotson said in a statement. “That’s a combination of pandemic benefits and all the other benefits programs too. Every state has been hit, some harder than others. The Secret Service is hitting the ground running, trying to recover everything we can, including funds stolen from both federal and state programs.”
As Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Dotson is also heading cryptocurrency investigations. The Secret Service said victims are unknowingly used as money mules to move stolen funds from one account to another using cryptocurrency.
“The Secret Service has seen a huge uptick in electronic crime in furtherance of these fraud cases,” Dotson continued. “Criminals will often ask potential victims to open an account and move money for them for some reason as part of a ruse.”
“Targeted individuals are often asked to open bank accounts and accept large sum deposits,” he added. “As a result, people are becoming unwitting mules for stolen money.”
As of Tuesday, Secret Service investigations have uncovered more than $1.2 billion in UI and SBA loan fraud. The agency has also executed the return of over $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds through Automated Clearly House reversals.
“These investigations have led to the arrest of 100 individuals responsible for UI and SBA loan fraud. The Secret Service continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and SBA Offices of Inspectors General (OIG), and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) on identifying and preventing these crimes,” the press release stated.