Federal authorities seize more than $80,000 tied to COVID-19 unemployment scheme in N.C.

Federal data shows that more than 86,000 loans totaling $12.7 billion have been approved for...
Federal data shows that more than 86,000 loans totaling $12.7 billion have been approved for small businesses in Virginia for relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.(Pixabay)
Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 10:08 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Federal authorities have seized more than $80,000 tied to a coronavirus unemployment scheme in North Carolina.

Officials seized $80,661.05 in funds held at bank accounts allegedly used to perpetuate the COVID-19 unemployment fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray.

The federal seizure warrant was executed by U.S. Secret Service agents and was unsealed in federal court Thursday. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the seizure of $48,742.50, also allegedly tied to a COVID-19 unemployment fraud scheme.

The affidavit filed in support of the federal warrant alleges that the funds were seized as part of an ongoing investigation of a COVID-19 unemployment fraud scheme that implicates bank accounts purportedly opened by individuals in the Western District of North Carolina.

As alleged in court documents, the bank accounts identified in the seizure warrant were allegedly used to transfer to scammers funds fraudulently obtained from federal and state unemployment benefit programs put in place to provide financial assistance to qualifying individuals impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The warrant alleges that scammers have targeted these programs and have exploited them for their benefit.

Court documents allege that the scammers carried out the fraud by using identity theft victims’ information to apply for unemployment benefits online.

Then, at the direction of the fraudsters, bank account holders were directed to receive the fraud proceeds and to conduct financial transactions with those proceeds, or to transfer the money to other bank accounts, often located overseas.

In many instances, the bank account holders that received or made transactions with the stolen funds were not aware they were being exploited to carry out financial fraud.

Rather, as the filed affidavit alleges, in many instances, the individuals who opened the bank accounts used to perpetuate the fraud were led to believe they were involved in online romantic relationships with the fraudsters.

“I thank the U.S. Secret Service for acting quickly to stop this fraud. My office will continue to with work federal, state, and local law enforcement and stakeholder banks, to make sure domestic or foreign criminals do not profit from pillaging important COVID-19 relief programs,” U.S. Attorney Murray said.

U.S. Attorney Murray also noted that the public plays an important role in stopping COVID-19 fraud and urged everyone to remain alert about possible coronavirus scams.

“If you are engaged in an online-only relationship and your paramour asks you to open a new bank account, or use your existing account to transfer funds, think twice. A fraudster posing as a romantic online partner could be using you and your accounts as a repository to launder stolen money. Don’t let a scammer turn you into a money mule. Be extra vigilant about online scams, and if the circumstances are suspicious get in touch with law enforcement right away,” Murray said.

If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report the fraud by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form. Members of the public in the Western District of North Carolina are also encouraged to call 704-344-6222 to reach their local Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator.

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