Stories about rampant fraud related to unemployment benefits paid out during the pandemic have been percolating for a while. The AP reported in March that states were being overwhelmed by bogus claims. Earlier this week, WBTW noted that the FTC has logged 400,000 complaints so far from people who say someone stole their identity to apply for government benefits—compared to 13,000 in all of 2019. But a new report from Felix Salmon at Axios might have the most jaw-dropping stat of all: He talks to a security expert—Blake Hall of ID.me— who estimates that up to half of all unemployment benefits might have been stolen. In dollar terms, that translates to about $400 billion. And it appears that most of the money went to scammers outside the country.
Haywood Talcove of LexisNexis Risk Solutions tells Salmon that 70% of the stolen money went to members of crime syndicates in places such as China, Nigeria, and Russia. These are organized operations in which the scammers use stolen identities to impersonate Americans applying for benefits. "Many states are now getting more sophisticated about preventing this kind of fraud," writes Salmon. "But it's far too late." In the Wall Street Journal, Anne Tergesen writes a first-person account of being one such victim in New York state. One piece of advice she shares for those in the same boat: File a police report or an ID-theft affidavit with the FTC. That could help down the road in disputing bogus charges. (Read more fraud stories.)