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Secret Service taps official to help crack down on COVID-19 fraud

The agency is looking to pin down billions in stolen benefits.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The US Secret Service is amping up its efforts to investigate "the fraudulent use of COVID-19 relief applications" by naming a National Pandemic Fraud Recovery Coordinator, the agency said in a release Tuesday.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Dotson will take on the new role, in which he'll coordinate efforts by multiple Secret Service investigations to crack down on COVID-19-related fraud. These stolen benefits amount to nearly $100 billion, the Secret Service says.

Early on in the pandemic, law enforcement was most concerned about fraud related to personal protective equipment, the Secret Service notes. But now the "release of federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has attracted the attention of individuals and organized criminal networks worldwide." The Secret Service says investigating the "exploitation of pandemic-related relief" is its priority.

In his new role, Dotson will coordinate efforts with financial institutions and money services businesses, US attorney offices and other federal agencies to seize illegally obtained relief funds, ranging from unemployment insurance to US Small Business Administration loans and grants. 

"The Secret Service currently has more than 900 active criminal investigations into fraud specific to pandemic-related relief funds," Dotson said in a statement. "That's a combination of pandemic benefits and all the other benefits programs too. Every state has been hit, some harder than others. The Secret Service is hitting the ground running, trying to recover everything we can, including funds stolen from both federal and state programs."

So far, the Secret Service says, more than $1.2 billion has been seized and 100 people have been arrested following investigations into unemployment insurance and Small Business Administration loan fraud.