Since the pandemic started around 18 months ago, millions of people have lost their jobs. To help those individuals struggling to find work, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program was intended to provide unemployment insurance benefits for individuals, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, or others who are not ordinarily eligible for other types of unemployment benefits. (Fraudsters saw the pandemic as an opportunity to make some extra cash. In other words, they were like kids in a candy store with no supervision.)
Norman Higgs, 34, of Dudley, Massachusetts, like other fraudsters trying to take advantage of those less fortunate, tried to scam the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance out of PUA benefits.
Over three months in 2020, Higgs and his co-conspirators submitted more than 85 fraudulent PUA claims using the stolen personal identification information of others. As a result, this group of ne’er do wells collected more than $450,000. (Not bad for only three months of “work.”)
The PUA payments were directed to bank accounts that were controlled by Higgs and others. As you might guess, these unscrupulous individuals used the illegally gained funds for personal expenses such as paying off credit card debt and funding digital currency and online retail brokerage accounts. (Wouldn’t it be great if the government would pay off your debt and fund extravagant purchases too?)
Higgs pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy. When he appears in court for sentencing, he could get up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. (If every criminal would consider the ramifications of conviction before committing a crime, they could eliminate a lot of self-inflicted pain. I guess some people are just glutton for punishment.)
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Dudley Man Pleads Guilty to Theft and Misuse of COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance” dated September 17, 2021.
BOSTON – A Dudley man pleaded guilty today in connection with his involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain and misuse COVID-19-related unemployment assistance.
Norman Higgs, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris scheduled sentencing for Dec. 17, 2021. Higgs was charged in May 2021.