The Secret Service is investigating a huge Nigerian crime ring that has been using phony unemployment claims to steal hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars meant to cushion jobless Americans.
The ring is reportedly exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to file unemployment claims in different states in the United States using social security numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII).
In a memo circulated to field offices around the United States on Thursday, the Secret Service said “a substantial amount of the fraudulent benefits submitted have used PII from first responders, government personnel and school employees,” KrebsOnSecurity reports.
“It is assumed the fraud ring behind this possesses a substantial PII database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far,” the Secret Service warned, and the primary target was Washington State with evidence of other attacks in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wyoming.
“In the state of Washington, individuals residing out-of-state are receiving multiple ACH deposits from the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Program, all in different individuals’ names with no connection to the account holder,” the Service said in the memo.
The Secret Service memo comes on the back of news reports by outlets in Washington and other affected places of millions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims.
One of those outlets is the Seattle Times which reported that the nefarious activity had stymied unemployment payments for two days after officials detected more than $1.6million in fraudulent claims.
Citing the State Employment Security Department, The Seattle Times stated that “between March and April, the number of fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits jumped 27-fold to 700. During that same period, the amount of money bled off by suspected fraudsters jumped from about $40,000 to nearly $1.6 million.”
Since the report, The Times said it had been contacted by dozens of people who discovered fraudulent claims had been filed using their Social Security numbers and other personal information.
They told the outlet that “they learned of the fraud after receiving a notification from the Employment Security Department that their claim was being processed, even though they had not filed one in some cases.”
Similar complaints were raised in Rhode Island, according to a report by WPRI. In the May 4 report, the state’s Department of Labor and Training disclosed that it had received hundreds of complaints of unemployment insurance fraud, and that “the number of purportedly fraudulent accounts is keeping pace with the unprecedented number of legitimate claims for unemployment insurance.”
“It’s been unbelievable to see the huge number of bogus filings here, and in such large amounts,” Elaine Dodd, executive vice president of the fraud division at the Oklahoma Bankers Association, was quoted as saying. According to Dodd, one fraudulent claim in Oklahoma was for more than $29,000.