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, the U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday.
The estimate is based on Secret Service cases and data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration, said Roy Dotson, the agency’s national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator, in an interview. The Secret Service didn’t include COVID-19 fraud cases prosecuted by the Justice Department.
While roughly 3% of the $3.4 trillion dispersed, the amount stolen from pandemic benefits programs shows “the sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals,” Dotson said.
Most of that figure comes from unemployment fraud. The Labor Department reported about $87 billion in unemployment benefits could have been paid improperly, with a significant portion attributable to fraud.
The Secret Service said it 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 Secret Service says it has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic fraud, with cases in every state, and 100 people have been arrested so far.