Nigerian scammers are targeting COVID-19 unemployment stimulus money

State Unemployment Agencies Defrauded!

The US Secret Service is looking into a group of Nigerian scammers who are attempting to swindle state governments into paying them unemployment. Using a stolen data set filled with the private information of American residents, the criminals sought to manipulate state unemployment websites into paying out funds.

Perhaps the most alarming detail is that the data set largely targets police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other low-level government employees. The criminal organization responsible has primarily targeted the state of Washington, but other states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida have shown evidence of similar attacks.

In order to facilitate the scam, Nigerians have been swindling desperate and lonely Americans into assisting them by roping them in with “romance scams“.

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The Secret Service said the fraud network is believed to consist of hundred of “mules,” a term used to describe willing or unwitting individuals who are recruited to help launder the proceeds of fraudulent financial transactions.

“In the state of Washington, individuals residing out-of-state are receiving multiple ACH deposits from the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Program, all in different individuals’ names with no connection to the account holder,” the notice continues.

The Service’s memo suggests the crime ring is operating in much the same way as crooks who specialize in filing fraudulent income tax refund requests with the states and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a perennial problem that costs the states and the U.S. Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

In those schemes, the scammers typically recruit people — often victims of online romance scams or those who also are out of work and looking for any source of income — to receive direct deposits from the fraudulent transactions, and then forward the bulk of the illicit funds to the perpetrators.