Congress is poised to approve another quarter-trillion dollars in COVID-19-related unemployment benefits even though the nation’s patchwork, state-based system remains vulnerable to the same rampant fraud that allowed scammers last year to siphon off more than $40 billion in pandemic relief intended for needy Americans.
That means the $1.9-trillion stimulus package headed for approval in Congress this month — including another $260 billion in unemployment insurance — is likely to bring another windfall for cyber criminals, including many foreigners impersonating laid-off workers and exploiting loopholes created by last year’s CARES Act relief bill.
“It’s like Christmas for the fraudsters,” said Haywood Talcove, chief executive of information firm LexisNexis Risk Solutions, who says the government should adopt tougher anti-fraud safeguards to verify the identity, work history and location of applicants. “I wouldn’t let another penny go out until the government puts some of these tools in place to prevent it.”
Cybercrime experts, including some who once made their living exploiting weak online systems, warn that as Congress prepares to pass another mass infusion of cash, criminals have gotten smarter, but the federal government hasn’t.
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