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Residents urged to report virus aid fraud crimes

CLEVELAND — Investigators for the Internal Revenue Service and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio are continuing investigating fraud and suspected financial crimes surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are urging residents to report any suspicious incident.

Over the last year, IRS investigators have been combating COVID-19 fraud related to the Economic Impact Payments, Paycheck Protection Program and Employee Retention Credit.

The agency said it has investigated more than 350 tax and money-laundering cases nationwide, totaling $440 million. These cases cover various criminal offenses, including fraudulently obtained loans, credits and payments meant for workers, families and small businesses.

“The CARES Act was designed to provide financial assistance to Americans struggling as a result of the pandemic,” Bryant Jackson, IRS agent in charge of investigations in the Cincinnati office, stated in a news release. “Unfortunately, some individuals saw several of the programs enacted as an opportunity to steal and commit fraud.”

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted on March 29, 2020, to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering the economic effects of the pandemic. One source of relief authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the Paycheck Protection Program.

In April 2020, Congress authorized more than $300 billion in additional funding, and in December 2020, another $284 billion.

Bridget M. Brennan, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern Ohio District, urges anyone with information about suspicious activity to call the federal hotline at 866-720-5721 or visit the web complaint form on the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) website. People also can report a suspected crime at IRS.gov.

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