Close to $100 billion in pandemic relief funds are missing. The U.S. Secret Service says that criminals stole the money from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and another program set up to provide unemployment assistance funds to Americans.
In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. Secret Service said that more than $2.3 billion have been recovered so far, and that more than 100 suspects have been arrested for their theft. Those who’ve been arrested span the spectrum from individuals to organized groups.
The U.S. government has given out around $3.5 trillion in COVID-19 relief money since the start of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.
The Secret Service, which tracks down and arrests financial fraudsters, in addition to providing security detail for the president, announced the launch of a new national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator to monitor its massive investigations into the enormous number of fraud cases across the country.
CNBC reports that an enormous number of fraud cases have been opened from the hundred billion dollar theft.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for over 29 years and worked some complex fraud investigations for 20 plus years, and I’ve never seen something at this scale,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Dotson, who took on the role.
“There’s no doubt that the programs were easily accessible online. And so, with that, comes the opportunity for bad actors to get into that mix,” Dotson told CNBC. “It was necessary to try to get these funds out to people that were truly hurting, and no fault of anybody.”
Dotson said that the Secret Service has more than 900 active investigations related to pandemic fraud.
“It’s a wide range because the pot was so big,” Dotson said. “You not only have your typical transnational organized groups and domestic organized groups, criminal groups, but you have individuals that decided to take advantage of that. So, there’s many different patterns and investigative intelligence that we develop that I can’t really go into. But we’ve mapped out kind of some of the different characteristics of different groups.”
Dotson, who is also overseeing investigations related to cryptocurrency fraud, says that the difficulty in the COVID-19 relief fraud is the “sheer scope” of the amount of fraudulent loans or unemployment insurance benefits ever distributed.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service said that the recovered funds included hundreds of millions sent to PayPal and Green Dot.
“After the Secret Service alerted the private sector early on about the emerging fraud, numerous financial institutions proactively identified, investigated, and safeguarded against suspected fraudulent pandemic relief funds,” the Secret Service stated. “These private institutions then reached out to the Secret Service for further assistance. In coordination with companies like Green Dot Corporation and PayPal, the Secret Service was able to seize over $400 million in fraudulent funds.”