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US watchdog identifies US$5.4 billion in potentially fraudulent Covid-19 loans

The US is probing many fraud cases pegged to US government assistance programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and Medicare.

Reuters
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People walk along Wall Street in New York City, US, Jan 27. Photo: Reuters
People walk along Wall Street in New York City, US, Jan 27. Photo: Reuters

The US government likely awarded about US$5.4 billion (about RM23 billion) in Covid-19 aid to people with questionable Social Security numbers, a federal watchdog said in a report released on Monday.

The watchdog, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), said it "identified 69,323 questionable Social Security Numbers (SSNs) used to obtain US$5.4 billion from the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (Covid-19 EIDL) program and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)."

The loans were disbursed between April 2020 and October 2022, the watchdog said in its report, which comes ahead of a scheduled Wednesday hearing by the Republican-led House of Representatives Oversight Committee on fraud in pandemic spending.

The US is probing many fraud cases pegged to US government assistance programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and Medicare. In May 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched a Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Last year, the US Justice Department tapped federal prosecutor Kevin Chambers to lead its efforts to investigate fraudsters who used the pandemic as an excuse to bilk government assistance programs.

In September, the inspector general for the US Labour Department said fraudsters likely stole US$45.6 billion from the US unemployment insurance program during the coronavirus outbreak by applying tactics like using Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

Also in September, federal prosecutors charged dozens of defendants, who were accused of stealing US$250 million from a government aid program that was supposed to feed children in need during the pandemic.

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