The U.S. Secret Service said on Aug. 26 that it had seized $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans, bringing the total amount of stolen funds recovered by the agency to $1.4 billion since the relief program was rolled out in 2020.
The Secret Service said in a statement that it had returned the $286 million to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the federal agency responsible for distributing relief funds under various programs enacted at the height of the pandemic.
All the funds in question were stolen by criminals who fraudulently submitted applications under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) scheme. The program, which ended several months ago, was meant to help small businesses recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The SBA’s Office of the Inspector General has estimated that at least $80 billion distributed from the $400 billion EIDL program may have been fraudulent, much of it by way of stolen identity scams.
The Secret Service said the latest seizure brings the total amount of fraudulently obtained pandemic relief funds seized by the Secret Service to $1.4 billion.
The investigation that netted the $286 million in stolen funds was initiated by a Secret Service field office in Orlando, Florida. In the course of the probe, agents from the Orlando office found that fraudsters used a third-party payment system called Green Dot Bank (GDB) to try and hide their criminal activity.
“Working with GDB, the Secret Service was able to identify over 15,000 accounts used in the conspiracy and seize the $286 million contained in these fraudulent accounts,” the agency said in the statement.
Criminals used fabricated or stolen employment and personal information when submitting the EIDL applications.
By Tom Ozimek