Special to Iredell Free News
CHARLOTTE — Federal authorities have seized $80,661.05 in funds held at bank accounts allegedly used to perpetuate COVID-19 unemployment fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray. The federal seizure warrant was executed by U.S. Secret Service agents and was unsealed in federal court Thursday.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the seizure of $48,742.50, also allegedly tied to a COVID-19 unemployment fraud scheme.
Reginald A. DeMatteis, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Office, joined U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
The affidavit filed in support of the federal warrant alleges that the funds were seized as part of an ongoing investigation of a COVID-19 unemployment fraud scheme that implicates bank accounts purportedly opened by individuals in the Western District of North Carolina. As alleged in court documents, the bank accounts identified in the seizure warrant were allegedly used to transfer to scammers funds fraudulently obtained from federal and state unemployment benefit programs put in place to provide financial assistance to qualifying individuals impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The warrant alleges that scammers have targeted these programs and have exploited them for their benefit.
Court documents allege that the scammers carried out the fraud by using identity theft victims’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to apply for unemployment benefits online. Then, at the direction of the fraudsters, bank account holders were directed to receive the fraud proceeds and to conduct financial transactions with those proceeds, or to transfer the money to other bank accounts, often located overseas. In many instances, the bank account holders that received or made transactions with the stolen funds were not aware they were being exploited to carry out financial fraud.
Rather, as the filed affidavit alleges, in many instances, the individuals who opened the bank accounts used to perpetuate the fraud were led to believe they were involved in online romantic relationships with the fraudsters.
U.S. Attorney Murray commended the U.S. Secret Service for their investigative work in this case and for their ongoing efforts to combat fraud related to COVID-19. He also thanked financial institutions in Western North Carolina for their cooperation and their efforts to detect and report COVID-19 financial fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Bain-Creed, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is handling the federal warrants.
U.S. Attorney Murray also urged the public to remain alert in detecting COVID-19 fraud and to report suspicious activity to the local authorities, or by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form. Members of the public in the Western District of North Carolina are also encouraged to call 704-344-6222 to reach their local Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.