A stunning $400 billion in unemployment claims were likely stolen via fraud over the past year — and a “bulk” of that money has come from crime syndicates in places like China, Russia, and Nigeria.
“Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year,” Axios reported Friday. “Unemployment fraud during the pandemic could easily reach $400 billion, according to some estimates, and the bulk of the money likely ended in the hands of foreign crime syndicates — making this not just theft, but a matter of national security.”
When state and national leaders encouraged or mandated lockdown measures, disallowing millions of Americans from working, unemployment claims skyrocketed. States were unequipped to handle the influx in a timely manner, choosing to get out the money as quickly as possible with the expectation that some fraud would slip through.
But the fraud wasn’t just from Americans — an estimated 70% of the fraud likely came from foreign criminal syndicates, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions Haywood Talcove told Axios:
“[Talcove] estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.”
“These groups are definitely backed by the state,” the CEO said.
“Much of the rest of the money was stolen by street gangs domestically, who have made up a greater share of the fraudsters in recent months,” Axios noted.
The Biden administration responded to the report, seemingly blaming the state level “widespread fraud” on the Trump administration.
“Widespread fraud at the state level in pandemic unemployment insurance during the previous Administration is one of the most serious challenges we inherited,” said White House economist Gene Sperling.
“President Biden has been clear that this type of activity from criminal syndicates is despicable and unacceptable,” Sperling added. “It is why we passed $2 billion for UI modernizations in the American Rescue Plan, instituted a Department of Justice Anti-Fraud Task Force and an all-of-government Identity Theft and Public Benefits Initiative.”
In Florida, where lockdown measures were limited and brief, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis informed unemployed residents last month that May would be their last month to collect unemployment benefits without proving they are looking for work.
Now, Floridians collecting state unemployment benefits must prove they are actively looking for work by submitting at least five job applications per week, The Daily Wire reported June 2:
The policy, which began Tuesday, requires anyone receiving unemployment to submit at least five applications per week and register with local career centers, according to local Fox 13.
The change comes as the state’s hospitality industry is facing a shortage of workers, which has led many restaurants to reduce hours.
Frank Sierra, the general manager of a Florida restaurant, approved of the new rules, telling Fox 13: “I think it’s going to put a lot more people to work. It’ll obviously fill some of those positions that are in demand. Business six months ago wasn’t really demanding, so if you had somewhat of a shorter staff, you were able to get by, and everything was fine, but I think this might boost people as business picks up. I think it’ll help people out with more applicants.”
“It’s definitely been more challenging than normal, you know, in a typical, normal setting for hiring whenever you put a job posting out you almost always have an overwhelming amount of applicants. Lately, we’ve been putting some ads out getting a hit here or there,” Sierra said.
Axios noted that states across the nation “are now getting more sophisticated about preventing” the rife unemployment fraud they’ve suffered, “But it’s far too late.”
Related: Floridians Collecting Unemployment Must Prove They Are Applying For Jobs 5 Times Per Week