ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — More than two years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals continue to abuse pandemic relief funds.

In Virginia, over 50 people were charged this year for misusing relief funds and requesting millions in disaster loans and unemployment benefits intended for people impacted by the pandemic.

In March 2020, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion economic relief CARES Act to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans. However, this bill also gave many fraudsters the opportunity to abuse COVID relief funds.

“Our country has been dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic for over two years now, but there is still considerable work to be done,” Jessica D. Aber, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), said. “We continue to uncover more CARES Act fraud almost every day.”

Since the start of 2022, the EDVA U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged over 50 defendants in at least 26 cases of fraud schemes connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. This amounts to a total of almost $125 million that fraudsters attempted to obtain from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Unemployment Insurance.

According to EDVA, defendants from this year often misused COVID funds, with some of them using this money to buy houses, cars, jewelry and luxury vacations. Others filed fraudulent PPP loan applications, with one business reportedly filing over 80 loan applications seeking over $100 million. Criminal groups, identity thieves and prison inmates also attempted to obtain pandemic unemployment benefits this year, with some trying to apply for millions in benefits.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was one of America’s most vulnerable moments,” Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Norfolk Field Office, said. “Many businesses and individuals needed federal emergency assistance to stay afloat, but some fraudsters saw it as an opportunity to enrich themselves instead.”

To report a COVID-19-related fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.