Up to half of the unemployment benefits distributed by the U.S. government during the pandemic may have been stolen, experts say. According to a report in Axios, unemployment fraud in the past year may top $400 billion, with most of it stolen by crime syndicates in foreign countries like Russia, China, and Nigeria. LexisNexis Risk Solutions CEO Haywood Talcove told Axios that these syndicates are “definitely backed by the state” and could be responsible for around 70 percent of stolen benefits. The rest, he conjectures, may have been stolen by low-level domestic crims.
Usually, fraudsters steal a potential claimant’s identity to impersonate them in receiving benefits. In some cases, “mules” are given debit cards, which are used to take the money out of an ATM and transfer it overseas via bitcoin. The KrebsOnSecurity blog reported last year that a Nigerian scammer ring targeting unemployment insurance programs with these methods had potentially netted hundreds of millions of dollars.