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Federal watchdog admits $45.6 BILLION in pandemic unemployment benefits was stolen by fraudsters

Fraudsters have stolen more than $45 billion in illegal unemployment claims during the pandemic, the Labor Department concluded Thursday — while warning the real figure could be even higher.

Criminals used inventive measures to access the COVID benefits, using more than 205,000 social security numbers from dead people to claim the money.

Some schemes used inmates’ social security numbers, even though they were ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The latest figure is more than double the previous estimate released by the Department of Labor last year when they concluded $16 billion had been stolen.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat who represents Oregon and chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the new report demonstrates the urgency of improving security controls on unemployment benefits.

“I have long said that we need a national set of technology and security standards for state systems to better prevent this type of fraud, and we will continue to work to push through our reforms,” ​​he said.

A woman walks past a shuttered store in Manhattan on June 2, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic

A woman walks past a shuttered store in Manhattan on June 2, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic

Long lines of people waiting for COVID testing in the Bronx on April 19, 2020

Long lines of people waiting for COVID testing in the Bronx on April 19, 2020

Long lines of people waiting for COVID testing in the Bronx on April 19, 2020

The Department of Labor’s inspector general said 190,000 fraud investigations have been opened since the start of the pandemic.

Separately, the Justice Department said on Thursday that 1,000 people have now been charged for COVID-related fraud.

The accused include a 61-year-old Massachusetts woman who filed 25 unemployment claims for people who didn’t even live in the state.

Audri Ford-Victory, of Springfield, swindled $215,246 from the system, with the money going to people who didn’t qualify.

“Ford-Victory received a bribe in exchange for filing the fraudulent claims,” ​​prosecutors in Boston said.

She pleaded guilty in January of this year to one count of conspiracy to commit telephony fraud and was sentenced to six months’ house arrest and three years’ probation.

Audri Ford-Victory, 61, of Springfield (center, wearing green vest), ripped off $215,246 from the system, with the money going to ineligible people

Audri Ford-Victory, 61, of Springfield (center, wearing green vest), ripped off $215,246 from the system, with the money going to ineligible people

Audri Ford-Victory, 61, of Springfield (center, wearing green vest), ripped off $215,246 from the system, with the money going to ineligible people

A New York man who stole $131,560 was sentenced in July to six years and 10 months in prison.

Hector J. Sanchez, a 30-year-old member of the Bloods gang from Rensselaer who has 11 previous convictions, including three felonies, also defrauded a $12,500 loan for a non-existent car wash company.

In court documents, federal prosecutors said that on Nov. 21, 2020, Sanchez posted a video on social media in which his hands ransacked large amounts of money that read, “IF YOU DON’T HAVE UNEMPLOYMENT APPLICATION, GET WITH ME N COME GET THIS BAG.”

Between September 2020 and November 2020, Sanchez applied for pandemic unemployment benefits under nine different identities.

A Texas woman, Donna Wasson, 37, of San Antonio, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March this year.

She pleaded guilty in November and was ordered to pay restitution and forfeiture of $5,437.

In January 2021, she wrote on Facebook: “Too stressed to see properly. These mobile banks can just take your money and tell you that you now have to wait 6 months to get what you worked so hard for. FML! If I did, I’d go to jail.’

One man replied, “Sounds like you’re going to jail!!”

Donna Wasson, 37, of San Antonio, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March this year

Donna Wasson, 37, of San Antonio, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March this year

Donna Wasson, 37, of San Antonio, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March this year

Larry Turner, the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, released his report Thursday

Larry Turner, the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, released his report Thursday

Larry Turner, the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, released his report Thursday

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors charged 47 defendants with stealing $250 million from a government aid program designed to feed children in need during the pandemic.

A Minnesota nonprofit, Feeding Our Future, was accused of orchestrating the plot.

The founder, Aimee Bock, denied wrongdoing.

Larry Turner, the Department of Labor’s inspector general, said in a statement that the huge sums of money poured into the economy during the pandemic to support unemployed Americans overwhelmed the system and created opportunities for fraud.

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

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