Watchdog: Crooks Likely Jacked $45B From Pandemic Unemployment 

Covid-19, Unemployment Fraud, Office of Inspector General, labor department

Crooks likely used the Social Security numbers of dead people and prisoners plus filed claims in multiple states to steal more than $45 billion from the pandemic unemployment program, three times more than previous estimates. 

The expanded U.S. unemployment insurance program started in March 2020 paid out more than $872 billion in pandemic aid intended for people laid off during COVID-19, according to a report on Thursday (Sept. 22) from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The new estimated total is nearly three times the $16 billion in fraudulent payments OIG estimated in a June 2021 report, which analyzed claims from March through October of 2020. The current investigation period identifies fraudulent payments made from March 2020 to April 2022.

See also: COVID Fraud Could Hit $163B, Experts Say

So far, more than 1,000 people have been accused of receiving fraudulent unemployment payments following investigations by the inspector general’s office.

“This milestone of 1,000 individuals being charged with crimes involving UI fraud and the identification of $45.6 billion in potentially fraudulent UI payments highlights the magnitude of this problem,” Inspector General Larry D. Turner said in a statement.

“Hundreds of billions in pandemic funds attracted fraudsters seeking to exploit the UI program—resulting in historic levels of fraud and other improper payments,” he added.

Over 50% of the potential fraud stemmed from fraudsters filing for benefits in multiple states. In other instances, criminals used the Social Security numbers of people who were dead or in prison, as well as suspicious email addresses, according to the report.

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

Since the pandemic started, the OIG opened more than 190,000 investigations related to unemployment fraud. The department leveraged data analytics to focus on the cases that posed the “greatest risk to the UI program,” per the statement. 

The pandemic unemployment insurance program upped benefits for people who lost jobs under COVID to an extra $600 a week in federal aid, which was later reduced to $300 a week. The supplemental benefit expired last year.