Thousands of thieves potentially plundered more than $280 billion in federal COVID-19 aid and wasted or misspent another $123 billion, Richard Lardner and the Associated Press report. The amount represents nearly 10 percent of the $4.3 trillion the U.S. government has disbursed to mitigate the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The thieves and scam artists spent lavishly on houses, private islands, luxury jewelry, expensive cars, lavish nights in Vegas, and bucket list vacations. The ease with which they carried out the theft was due, in part, to the governments dispensing of the normal safeguards to weed out thieves in an effort to get money to the people and businesses who needed it most during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, for thousands of people, stealing the money was as easy as lying on an application. In the United States, the Department of Justice reports that roughly 3,200 defendants have been charged with COVID-19 relief fraud and $1.4 billion in stolen pandemic aid has been seized. The scale and scope of the fraud are too large for investigators to ever be able to catch every criminal.