Unemployment fraud during the pandemic has reportedly funneled billions to foreign crime syndicates

Your COVID-19 unemployment check may have ended up overseas — and not because you bought too many shirts from Zara during lockdown.

A Thursday report from Axios estimates up to $400 billion in unemployment fraud during the pandemic, with the "bulk of the money likely [ending] in the hands of foreign crime syndicates." Some, however, are understandably skeptical of the numbers.

Blake Hall, CEO of fraud-prevention company ID.me, claims as much as 50 percent "of all unemployment monies might have been stolen," with a supposed 70 percent going to "criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere," per Haywood Talcove, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions. Such an element of foreign interference makes this not only a matter of theft, Axios writes, but of national security.

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Once-"rare" unemployment claims weren't typically regarded by crime syndicates as worthwhile — but as the pandemic progressed and jobless claims hit unprecedented levels last April, unemployment "became where the big money was." Now, Axios reports, fraud service is offered on the dark web, most frequently targeting the states lacking the ability to detect it.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the state uncovered a "massive criminal enterprise involving fraudulent unemployment claims" last year. He added that over "90 percent of claims flagged in Maryland" are later labeled as fraudulent.

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Skeptics, however, have otherwise flagged a lack of evidence to support Axios' "huge claim," especially as the story's main source — Blake Hall — has a stake in the anti-fraud business.

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Despite a muddled consensus as to exact scope, this is "not the first reported instance of stimulus money ending up in the wrong hands," Insider reports, and, if anything, just underscores the need for robust fraud detection services nationwide. The White House indicated unemployment fraud is "one of the most serious challenges" it's dealing with.

Read the full report at Axios.

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