In brief

  • US relief packages are being targeted by criminals.
  • Scammers are taking advantage of the commotion caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
  • Secret Service report warns "hundreds of millions of dollars" could be lost.

Federal agents have found evidence of a sophisticated criminal effort to steal hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government relief intended for those laid off during the coronavirus lockdown.

The official US unemployment rate stands at 14.7%, the highest in recorded history.

According to a report from the New York Times yesterday, fraudsters, hoping to profit from the pandemic, which has so far infected 1.5 million Americans and resulted in 90,000 US deaths, are filing false benefit claims on behalf of people who haven’t been laid off at all.

Officials said the fraudsters likely used personal information harvested from previous cyber hacks.

A Secret Service memo obtained from the New York Times said the criminal activity may be the handiwork of a well-organized Nigerian crime group and that the ongoing scheme could result in Americans losing, “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In April, US cybersecurity officials warned that the coronavirus lockdown had caused an increase in cybercrime. They warned that criminals had changed their tactics in response to the lockdown, often taking advantage of those eager to find remote-working opportunities.

Some argue that blockchain technology could provide government agencies with the means to avoid such fraudulent activity in the future when disbursing remittances. The trackable, immutable features of blockchain technology could potentially make fraudulent imitators a thing of the past.

“In an environment where users do not trust each other and are not even required to trust, but do not want to bear the extra costs—blockchain will be [governments’] choice,” Alex Axelrod of Aximetria told Decrypt.

Blockchain's ledger would provide government watchdogs with a method of tracking relief payments. This would ensure they reach their intended recipients.

However, plans for a US Digital Dollar, once proposed as a way of issuing remittance packages to those affected by the coronavirus, have since been shelved.