Widespread fraud in government programs aimed at providing relief for businesses and individuals during the Covid 19 pandemic is attracting the attention of the Department of Justice.
By mid-May, DOJ had charged about 500 defendants with criminal offenses for attempted fraud in excess of $550 million, reports attorney Andrew Sparks of the Dickinson Wright law firm.
The focus of many of these prosecutions have been schemes targeting the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, Unemployment Insurance programs, and relief funds for health care providers. The cost of this fraud is estimated in hundreds of billions of dollars.
“The Department of Justice has led an historic enforcement initiative to detect and disrupt Covid 19 related fraud,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
DOJ targets also include identity theft fraud, where scammers use telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms and in some instances, door-to-door visits, to defraud people.
Under these scenarios, the criminals offer Covid tests, prescription cards or grants in exchange for personal information. This information is then used for a variety of illicit purposes, which have included fraudulently billing health care programs.
While these are the most common frauds, other schemes also have been advanced, Sparks points out. For example, scam artists have set up sham charities, marketed fake virus cures, and defrauded people out of their stimulus checks.
The Federal Trade Commission has found that this fraud has cost American citizens more than $382 million on top of the direct fraud affecting the major government relief programs.
Individuals with information regarding COVID 19 fraud can report it to the government at https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/report-fraud/ or by calling 800-HHS-TIPS.