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New COVID-19 Unemployment Fraud Estimate Totals $45.6 Billion

A federal watchdog found that fraudsters may have stolen $45.6 billion from the nation’s unemployment insurance program during the pandemic. They did this by using the Social Security numbers of dead people and other tactics to deceive the government. The new estimate by the Labor Department inspector general is a dramatic increase from the roughly $16 billion in potential fraud identified a year ago, and it illustrates the immense task of officials to pinpoint the losses, recover the funds and hold criminals accountable for stealing from a vast array of federal relief programs, the Washington Post reports. Kevin Chambers, the director of coronavirus-related enforcement for the Justice Department, described the situation as “unprecedented fraud.” The inspector general’s office said since the start of the pandemic, it had opened roughly 190,000 investigative matters related to unemployment insurance fraud.


Scammers allegedly filed billions of dollars in unemployment claims in multiple states simultaneously and relied on suspicious, hard-to-trace emails. They used more than 205,000 Social Security numbers that belonged to dead people. Other suspected criminals obtained benefits using the identities of prisoners who were ineligible for aid. Labor Department inspector general officials acknowledged that they focused their report on “high risk” areas and that the information may be updated. This means there is a possibility that billions of dollars in additional theft will be uncovered in the coming months. A spokesman for the Labor Department pointed to a response letter from the agency, saying it is “committed” to helping states “combat the continually changing and new types of sophisticated fraud" affecting the unemployment insurance system.

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