To most people, the dark web is a mystery. To others, it’s an underground online marketplace where people can purchase drugs, firearms, counterfeit money, or even login credentials into a stolen Netflix account.
While this is correct, lately, it has also turned into a booming market for unemployment insurance (UI) scam “how to” services, where fraudsters can obtain incremental guides on the best way best to steal from state employment programs.
For a couple of dollars more, thieves can purchase the “fullz” (dark web slang for a complete set of stolen personal data that contains an individual’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, and much more ). This is the degree of sophistication organized crime has gained from its attempts to steal from authorities.
How are they able to conduct this racket? First, it begins with the source of stolen identities, which has rapidly increased over the past 15 years. In 2019 alone, over 164 million sensitive documents were exposed from the U.S. None of us are safe from this issue. The governor of Arkansas’s identity was used to file for UI in his own nation.
When COVID-19 struck, states were forced to process 10 to 15 times the normal amount of UI claims. On top of this large challenge, states were asked to disburse Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA, part of the CARES Act) to self-employed Americans that aren’t covered by conventional UI programs. This meant those Americans would need to confirm self-employment income, for the first time, with little to no lead time.
This created another problem: People could buy fake tax returns on the dark web markets if they wanted to reveal previous self-employment “income” and fraudulently claim $600 a week at PUA funds. Unsurprisingly, some countries have found that a whole lot of the PUA claims are fraudulent.
These movements have opened the floodgates to offenders who use what seem to be payments to 90-year-old bricklayers, 12-year-old barbers, and incarcerated and dead people to commit fraud on a gigantic scale. Fraudsters have seized on the chance to “hide in the herd” of new claimants to tear off the machine. The Labor Department’s inspector general estimates that around $26 billion of UI payments might have gone to fraudsters.
There are three big impacts of crime on this scale. The false claims clog the system and delay countries’ ability to get the money out to people who want it. Staff on the front lines have faced overwhelming growth in fraud efforts and unrealistic pressure from officials to push out funds to keep the market afloat.
Secondly, each stolen identity represents a human being. The victim of identity theft might need to manage the consequences of the theft. It requires time, money, and emotional exertion to overcome identity theft.
Third, the stolen money funds organized crime. Individual slicksters can not conduct the scale, scope, and sophistication of those crimes. There have been many reports of how organized crime, both national and foreign, is orchestrating UI scams to finance operations.
Shockingly, much of the $26 billion will be used to finance crimes such as human trafficking, the drug trade, and gun smuggling. There’s loads of evidence to suggest that money was stolen from our government programs even helps fund terrorism. In actuality, Inspire, the magazine supposedly published by al-Qaida from the Arabian Peninsula, ran a story about the best way best to use government programs to finance extremist activities. This complemented its stories on bomb-making strategies and instructions about the best way best to carry out terrorist attacks.
Authorities are trying their best to decrease fraud and receive the funds to people in need – but they’re struggling with limited resources and antiquated technology. Many times, they are outgunned by the offenders.
Those on the front lines need our help in fighting these crimes, and the tools to assist those in need and prevent fraud. And the authorities will need to examine the tactics of criminals by tracking the dark web to identify any vulnerabilities in their procedure.
We also have to break down the artificial barriers between nations so that they’re working together against this issue. Criminals cross state lines, so countries will need to look beyond their boundaries. Finally, legislatures will need to invest in supplying those on the front lines with more complex measures like pattern recognition algorithms to determine large-scale fraud rings.
COVID-19 has significantly changed all our lives. I expect that it also changes our level of support for detecting and preventing fraud in government programs so that we may cut off funding to crime rings and deliver those funds to people who desperately want them. That will safeguard the integrity of our social safety net when making our communities safer.