After the sudden shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 virus, many Americans found themselves struggling to make ends meet. To counteract the financial ramifications of the shutdowns and restrictions, the Federal government offered numerous relief options for individuals and businesses. At the same time, there have been concerns about individuals committing fraud to obtain these benefits. Let’s go over some of the most common types of COVID-19 related fraud and what may happen if you are found guilty of falsely obtaining benefits.
Unemployment Insurance Fraud
Unemployment benefits were offered to individuals who lost their jobs or were unable to work due to COVID-19. From April to July of 2020, individuals were also offered Pandemic Unemployment Compensation which provided an additional $600 per week to everyone who was unemployed.
Unemployment fraud occurs when an individual:
- Goes back to work but continues collecting benefits
- Does not report accurate earnings in order to collect more benefits
- Provides false information when applying for unemployment benefits
The Department of Justice has formed a National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force to investigate increased unemployment fraud incidents.
Recent investigations have discovered cases of COVID-19 healthcare fraud involving:
- Healthcare providers misusing funds from the Provider Relief Fund
- Counterfeit vaccines and vaccination records
- False reporting of services in order to obtain Medicaid benefits
- Fraudulent billing schemes
- Telehealth fraud
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Fraud
Small businesses were offered PPP loans to help them keep their doors open throughout the pandemic. This assistance was not unlimited, however, as the program ran out of funding in May 2021. As with the other assistance programs offered, investigations are being conducted for instances of PPP fraud.
Individuals may be charged with PPP fraud if they:
- Provide false information when applying for a PPP loan
- Apply for PPP loans from multiple lenders
- Use PPP money for unapproved purposes
Some criminal charges associated with PPP fraud include:
- Bank fraud
- Wire fraud
- False statements to financial institutions
- Conspiracy to defraud
Penalties for COVID-19-Related Fraud
The potential penalties for COVID-19-related fraud vary greatly based on the circumstances of the offense.
If you are found guilty of committing fraud:
- You could be required topay back all of the illegally obtained benefits.
- You may be given penalty weeks, during which you are unable to obtain benefits even if you legally qualify.
- You will likely be required to pay expensive fines, upwards of $100,000.
- You face a lengthyprison sentence.
Miami Fraud Defense Attorneys
Federal agencies are on high alert for cases of COVID-19-related fraud. If you are arrested and charged with a federal fraud crime, you need aggressive criminal defense on your side. Our team at Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. has the experience and skill needed to go up against federal prosecutors. Call us today at (305) 985-6640 to set up a free consultation with our Miami criminal defense attorneys.