Congress spending spree invites massive fraud, experts warn

Senators working together to stop government fraud

FOX Business correspondent Hillary Vaughn has the latest on the efforts to stop fraud and the bipartisan infrastructure bill on ‘Making Money’

An often told urban legend involving infamous bank robber Willie Sutton goes something like this: a reporter asked Sutton why he chose to rob banks, and he responded simply, "Because that’s where the money is." 

It makes sense – when offenders want to commit a crime, they look for an opportunity or a practical target. 

How about $3.5 trillion as an opportunity? 

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Experts are ringing the alarm bells yet again as worries heighten over potential widespread fraud related to Congress’ proposed spending spree and seeming lack of oversight. 

The Democrats plan – released by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., this week – promises to include pricey items such as free community college, universal pre-K, and a Civilian Climate Corps, but another expensive cost may be an unintended one: fraud against the government. 

"The issue is that we [still] haven't fixed a fundamental problem between the PPP loans and the unemployment insurance [where] we lost as a country between $800 billion and a trillion dollars," estimated Haywood Talcove, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions Government, a leading risk solutions group. 

"Until we fix the basic issue of validating individuals identities, these transnational criminal groups are going to continue to steal money from our country that can be used to help those most in need," Talcove continued. 

Indeed, transnational criminals pose a large threat to the U.S. when it comes to instances of fraud, with reported successes in Nigeria, Russia and China, among others. 

"Fraud is being perpetrated by domestic and foreign actors. We are successfully disrupting attempted fraud from international organized crime rings, including Russia, China, Nigeria and Ghana, as well as U.S. street gangs," said Blake Hall, CEO and founder of ID.me to FOX Business in June. 

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Hall at the time estimated that the country had lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent unemployment claims and that over 30% of new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims were fraudulent. 

The issue has not gone unnoticed on the Republican side of the aisle, with one prominent GOP leader saying the increased spending could only exacerbate the fraud issues. 

"Due to the poorly designed, too generous, COVID unemployment programs, we are experiencing the greatest theft of tax dollars and the greatest theft of workers from Main Street in American history," said Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to FOX Business. 

"And now, Democrats in Washington are determined to spur higher inflation and hurt the economy even further with a dangerous expansion of the welfare state that ushers in a new era of government dependency," the 13-term, retiring representative warned. 

Brady, along with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Martin Walsh in May pleading with the Biden administration to target unemployment fraud. The letter went unanswered. 

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Experts such as Talcove warn that the issue is only going to get worse, pointing to multiple entry points and very old technology – obsolete systems make scamming easier.

"Those criminal groups are highly sophisticated. In fact, I [met] with a federal official who explained to me that some of the cartels have better technology now than the federal government. They are focused at scale in stealing this money, and they are having huge amounts of success," Talcove concluded. 

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