By: Denise Simon | Founders Code
At least 30% of unemployment claims are fraudulent. 70% of the money has left our shores… oh, don’t worry… the Biden administration has set aside $2 billion to stop this. What?
Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year, some experts say.
Why it matters: Unemployment fraud during the pandemic could easily reach $400 billion, according to some estimates, and the bulk of the money likely ended in the hands of foreign crime syndicates — making this not just theft, but a matter of national security.
Catch up quick: When the pandemic hit, states weren’t prepared for the unprecedented wave of unemployment claims they were about to face.
- They all knew fraud was inevitable but decided getting the money out to people who desperately needed it was more important than laboriously making sure all of them were genuine.
By the numbers: Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that America has lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent claims. As much as 50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen, he says.
- Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.
- “These groups are definitely backed by the state,” Talcove tells Axios.
- Much of the rest of the money was stolen by street gangs domestically, who have made up a greater share of the fraudsters in recent months.
What they’re saying: “Widespread fraud at the state level in pandemic unemployment insurance during the previous Administration is one of the most serious challenges we inherited,” said White House economist Gene Sperling.
- “President Biden has been clear that this type of activity from criminal syndicates is despicable and unacceptable. It is why we passed $2 billion for UI modernizations in the American Rescue Plan, instituted a Department of Justice Anti-Fraud Task Force and an all-of-government Identity Theft and Public Benefits Initiative.”
How it works: Scammers often steal personal information and use it to impersonate claimants. Other groups trick individuals into voluntarily handing over their personal information.
- “Mules” — low-level criminals — are given debit cards and asked to withdraw money from ATMs. That money then gets transferred abroad, often via bitcoin.
The big picture: Before the pandemic, unemployment claims were relatively rare, and generally lasted for such short amounts of time that international criminal syndicates didn’t view them as a lucrative target.
- After unemployment insurance became the primary vehicle by which the U.S. government tried to keep the economy afloat, however, all that changed.
- Unemployment became where the big money was — and was also being run by bureaucrats who weren’t as quick to crack down on criminals as private companies normally are.
- Unemployment fraud is now offered on the dark web on a software-as-a-service basis, much like ransomware. States without fraud-detection services are naturally targeted the most.
The bottom line: Many states are now getting more sophisticated about preventing this kind of fraud. But it’s far too late.
Consequences should also be imposed on the states and we should not spend anything more on unemployment until at least 50% is recovered… billions of dollars likely ended up in the hands of foreign crime syndicates based in China, Russia, and other countries, experts say.
“Fraud is being perpetrated by domestic and foreign actors,” Blake Hall, CEO, and founder of ID.ME, told FOX Business. “We are successfully disrupting attempted fraud from international organized crime rings, including Russia, China, Nigeria, and Ghana, as well as U.S. street gangs.”
Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solution, suggested the bulk of the money – about $250 billion – went to international criminal groups, most of which are backed by the state. The money is essentially being used as their slush fund for “nefarious purposes,” such as terrorism, illegal drugs, and child trafficking, Talcove said.
The criminals have been able to access the money by stealing personal information and using it to impersonate claimants or buying it on the dark web. The groups also use an army of internet thieves to submit fraudulent claims. States, which administer the aid, may be prepared to combat fraud from individuals who are trying to double-dip or cash in on benefits they don’t need, but not international criminals using the dark web to exploit the system.