Billions of Dollars Lost in COVID Fraud: 2024 Report

The Department of Justice (DOJ) released its 2024 report from the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (CFETF), detailing the “widespread fraud involving many COVID-19 relief programs.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release, “Since I established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force three years ago, we have charged more than 3,500 defendants, seized or forfeited over $1.4 billion in stolen COVID-19 relief funds, and filed more than 400 civil lawsuits resulting in court judgments and settlements. Our work is not over. We will continue our efforts to investigate and prosecute pandemic relief fraud and to recover the assets that have been stolen from American taxpayers.”

More than 3,500 people have been charged for “losses of over $2 billion, civil enforcement actions resulting in more than 400 civil settlements and judgments of over $100 million, and over $1.4 billion seized or forfeited.”

Fraudulent claims targeted relief efforts for unemployment insurance benefits, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), and other programs.

“The fraud loss associated with these cases was more than $2.1 billion,” the report says.

A September 2023 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that between $100 billion to $135 billion in COVID-19 unemployment benefits was stolen.

The estimations are over double the amount of past projections.

According to the report, about 11%-15% of unemployment benefits were given to fraudsters.

“Because not all potential fraud will be investigated and adjudicated through judicial or other systems, the full extent of UI fraud during the pandemic will likely never be known with certainty,” the report states.

In June 2023, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), estimated that over $200 billion of COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds were disbursed to potentially fraudulent actors.

This amounts to “at least 17 percent of all COVID-19 EIDL and PPP funds,” the recent OIG White Paper report reads.

The OIG reviewed SBA’s pandemic assistance loan programs, aimed at offering financial relief to small business owners and entrepreneurs impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The SBA disbursed approximately $1.2 trillion under the programs.

The SBA lacked internal controls, however, noting that in the rush to disburse funds, “the agency weakened or removed the controls necessary to prevent fraudsters from easily gaining access to these programs.”

Although measures were recommended and implemented to strengthen internal controls and reduce the impact of the fraudulent activities, the report revealed that it may take years to fully investigate and mitigate the extent of this fraud due to the volume of investigative leads.