COVID Fraud Could Hit $163B, Experts Say

pandemic, fraud, unemployment, PPP loans, prosecutors

While 1,500 people have been charged with pandemic fraud and 450 have been convicted, investigators are still chasing down abundant leads in what could top $163 billion illegally siphoned from COVID unemployment insurance (UI) benefits alone.

A report from the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicates that a minimum of $163 billion in UI benefits “could be improper, with a significant portion being attributed to fraud.” 

The total fraud will likely increase, the OIG said. The three pandemic UI programs issued close to $655 billion in benefits.

See also: Feds Charge 20 in Alleged $150M COVID Fraud Schemes

Earlier this month President Joe Biden signed into law two bipartisan bills extending the statute of limitations for some pandemic-related fraud to 10 years.

“There are years and years and years of work ahead of us,” said Kevin Chambers, chief pandemic prosecutor for the Department of Justice, the New York Times reported on Wednesday (Aug. 17). “I’m confident that we’ll be using every last day of those 10 years.”

There are 500 special investigators working to ferret out COVID fraud, in addition to cases being pursued by the FBI, Secret Service, Postal Inspection Service, Labor Department, and the IRS, according to the NYT.

Read more: Fraud Played ‘Significant’ Role in $163B Leak from Pandemic-Era Unemployment System

The Labor Department has 39,000 investigations in progress and the Small Business Administration is digging into some two million loan applications that are suspected of being fraudulent.

Related: Federal Reserve Bans Six Bankers for COVID-19 Loan Fraud

The DOJ has so far connected an estimated $1 billion to fraudsters, with ongoing investigations totaling $6 billion, per the report.