Secret Service unearths overseas fraud ring stealing millions in unemployment benefits

The Secret Service has detected a large-scale foreign attack on the U.S. unemployment system that is processing record numbers of jobless claims amid the pandemic, according to The New York Times. 

In a Secret Service memo obtained by the Times, the agency described the attack as a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring that could lead to "potential losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

"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. 

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The attackers are reportedly using previously obtained Social Security numbers and other personal information to claim unemployment benefits. 

Since March, more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment amid shutdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The sudden increase in jobless claims has overwhelmed state unemployment systems. 

The attack was first reported in Washington state, where people who did not file for unemployment reported receiving benefits they didn’t ask for.

The attack adds yet another obstacle as state governments work to send out unemployment benefits in a timely manner.

At Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., more than 400 out of roughly 2,500 employees have been targeted with fraudulent claims, the university’s spokesman told the Times.

“This is a gut punch,” Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department, told the newspaper.

Though Washington state has been the primary victim of the attack, there is evidence that the fraud has occurred in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wyoming.