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    Breaking: Nearly 500 charged for COVID-19 related fraud in US
    NBS | Saturday, March 27th, 2021 | Published: 7:24 pm

    Breaking: Nearly 500 charged for COVID-19 related fraud in US

    Nearly 500 people have been charged in the United States for fraud schemes related to the coronavirus pandemic, including attempts to fraudulently make profits from stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and COVID-19 vaccines.

    “The Department of Justice has led a historic enforcement initiative to detect and disrupt COVID-19 related fraud schemes,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Friday.

    A total of 474 defendants have been charged with fraud or other criminal schemes in cases involving attempts to scam some $569 million dollars from the government, the department said.

    Early on in the pandemic, the Justice Department said it had made fighting such crimes a priority. The anti-fraud operation taken on added urgency after Congress passed a massive relief package known as the CARES Act a year ago.

    “The impact of the department’s work to date sends a clear and unmistakable message to those who would exploit a national emergency to steal taxpayer-funded resources from vulnerable individuals and small businesses,” Garland said on the anniversary of the CARES Act.

    “We are committed to protecting the American people and the integrity of the critical lifelines provided for them by Congress,” he said in a reference to the billions of dollars in relief approved by Congress.

    At least 120 of those charged sought to fraudulently line their own pockets from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to help small businesses.

    In one case, a defendant in Texas sought $24.8 million by applying for 15 different PPP loans from eight lenders using 11 companies.

    “The defendant obtained approximately $17.3 million and used the proceeds to purchase multiple homes, jewelry, and luxury vehicles,” the DOJ said.

    Dinesh Sah, who has pleaded guilty, used the money to buy homes, jewelry and more.

    The department said that international organized criminal groups had also tried to defraud the system by applying for unemployment benefits — weekly federal jobless benefits worth $600 a week– using fake and stolen identities.

    More than 140 people have so far been charged with fraud related to the program.

    Fraudsters also cooked up schemes to target consumers as well, most notably by developing fake cures and treatments for COVID-19.

    “The department has prosecuted or secured civil injunctions against dozens of defendants who sold products — including industrial bleach, ozone gas, vitamin supplements, and colloidal silver ointments — using false or unapproved claims about the products’ abilities to prevent or treat COVID-19 infections,” it said.

    While the Justice Department has touted its anti-fraud operation, there are still concerns about how much is slipping through the cracks.

    The Federal Trade Commission said that as of Tuesday fraud linked to pandemic has cost Americans $382 million.

    MG

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