As of Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice has charged hundreds of people with COVID-related criminal fraud schemes amounting to nearly $570 million, and it’s seized over half a million dollars of aid that went to the wrong people under false pretenses.
A total of 474 individuals have now been charged with fraud.
The department’s International Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property program (ICHIP) has taken down multiple online COVID scams and resulted in the confiscation of “significant” amounts of counterfeit medicines and medical supplies, including unlawful cures, treatments and personal protective equipment.
Illicit products have run the gamut from industrial bleach and ozone gas to vitamin supplements and colloidal silver ointments.
Fraud schemes have also been found in everything from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to Unemployment Insurance.
The PPP has seen a high level of fraudulent claims, with recipients falsely reporting employees and misappropriating funds to buy luxury items ranging from houses and cars to jewelry most commonly.
The DoJ noted that in one case in Texas, for which a case has been brought by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, a defendant applied for a total of 15 PPP loans through 8 lenders with 11 different company names. The defendant ended up receiving over $17 million in PPP loans--all of which was used to purchase luxury items.
In another case, a defendant applied for over 140 PPP and EIDL loans for $21 million using “sham companies” and “stolen and fictitious identities”.
In a smaller case, though no less egregious, an Arizona businessman purchased a Porsche and a new home with his $1 million COVID relief and is now facing fraud charges, CNN reported.
For EIDL loans, the DoJ said that $580 million in fraudulent claims had been seized to date as of Friday, with operations ongoing, while more than $860 billion in fraudulently claimed unemployment insurance had been appropriated.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, fraud linked to the Covid pandemic has cost Americans $382 million.
“To anyone thinking of using the global pandemic as an opportunity to scam and steal from hardworking Americans, my advice is simple – don’t,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “No matter where you are or who you are, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
“We will not allow American citizens or the critical benefits programs that have been created to assist them to be preyed upon by those seeking to take advantage of this national emergency,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners to hold wrongdoers accountable and to safeguard taxpayer funds.”