A Nigerian fraud ring has allegedly stolen millions of U.S. unemployment benefits meant to help jobless Americans.
The complex scheme stole identities from citizens, including social security numbers, to file invalid claims on behalf of workers who may not even be unemployed, the New York Times reported.
Federal authorities believe that most of the false claims were filed in Washington state, though there is evidence that similar attacks took place in six states: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Rhode Island, according to a Secret Service memo obtained by the Times.
The fraud ring could end up stealing “hundreds of millions of dollars” from individual state unemployment departments overwhelmed by Americans looking for a lifeline as economies ground to a halt.
“We are actively running down every lead we are getting,” Roy Dotson, a special agent who specializes in financial fraud at the Secret Service, said in an interview with investigators obtained by the Times.
The attack was first reported to authorities in Washington state, where people who did not file for unemployment benefits started receiving benefits they did not ask for.
“This is a gut punch,” Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department, told the Times.