COVID-19 relief programs have helped keep millions of Americans afloat during the pandemic but have also been a spectacular bonanza for an array of international scam artists, including Russian mobsters, Chinese hackers, and Nigerian scammers. An estimated $87 million to $400 billion in unemployment benefits may have been lost to fraud; at least half of that is thought to have been stolen by foreign criminals. Many took advantage of weak systems of unemployment verification in many states, which were further loosened to get financial support out quickly. Besides looting millions – or billions – of federal funds, identity thieves prevent innocent people from receiving the support they’re entitled to. While the vast majority of the stolen cash is gone for good, the FBI has so far recovered $100 million, while the Secret Service has clawed back $1.3 billion.
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