Fraudsters stole $45.6bn in pandemic assistance, says the federal government, a "dramatic" increase in previous estimates that put the total at $16bn. This was not everyday Americans getting benefits inappropriately: it was, from the outset, a feeding frenzy for professional criminals operating at scale.
The report, issued by the inspector general for the Labor Department, paints a grim portrait of the country's jobless aid program beginning under the Trump administration in 2020. The weekly benefits helped more than 57 million families just in the first five months of the crisis — yet the program quickly emerged as a tempting target for criminals.
To siphon away funds, scammers allegedly filed billions of dollars in unemployment claims in multiple states simultaneously and relied on suspicious, hard-to-trace emails. In some cases, 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.
One of the grim ironies of the pandemic is that small business owners, by and large, didn't realize that PPP loans were free money, more or less, that would never have to be paid back. Many let their busineses fail out of a greater fear of debt. Meanwhile, big businesses and the millionaires in Congress helped themselves handsomely.