Ross: Pandemic fraudsters show how we need to change our priorities

Mar 29, 2022, 7:27 AM | Updated: 1:57 pm
messages, Employment Security Department, pandemic...
A sign at the headquarters for Washington state's Employment Security Department at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

We all remember how fraudsters raided Washington state’s unemployment fund during the pandemic. In 2020, close to $650 million in benefits disappeared, because the state wanted to make the application process easy for people desperate to pay their rent.

But that also made it easy for crooks across the globe to set up phony email accounts and file fraudulent claims, knowing that no one was going to check.

One of the scammers turned out to be a Nigerian government official who was finally caught and charged with stealing $350,000.

Poor guy – he’ll have to go back to being a prince with a confidential business proposal.

Well, now, a federal investigation shows Washington was far from unique.

NBC reports the inspector general for the Small Business Administration estimates that the SBA ended up approving $78.1 billion in fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster loans. That’s in addition to all the bogus unemployment claims. And 78 billion is one of the more conservative estimates. The Secret Service says it could be as high as $100 billion.

The crooks used the same scheme – making up online identities knowing that the government was hot to get the money out the door and wasn’t properly vetting the applications.

I think in the future we’re all just going to have to pre-register in person to qualify for handouts like you do for Social Security. Doing it all online is just funding the underworld.

I figured it out – for the 78.1 billion that was wasted on fraud and went to crooks who used it to buy Lamborghinis and Teslas, you could have given every unsheltered person in America — all 553,000 of them — $141,000 each to get rid of their tent and rent a dry place to live.

But I realize that can’t happen because we are morally opposed to giving away free money. We’d rather see clever people steal it fair and square.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Pandemic fraudsters show how we need to change our priorities