Pandemic Perpetrators

Unemployment claim form on an office table.

Melissa Hayes, 51, of Bristol, Tenn., was sentenced for conspiring to file for nearly $500,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits she was not entitled to. Hayes worked with others to commit unemployment fraud by filing claims through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

The team of conspirators collected identification information for 37 individuals who were ineligible for the pandemic-related unemployment benefits. Fifteen of these identities were from inmates incarcerated at Southwest Virginia regional jails. (While inmates are unable to work, they cannot collect unemployment benefits because they did something illegal that put them behind bars.)

The conspirators attempted to increase the likelihood of receiving benefits by making it appear that their 37 victims were eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (This may have strengthened their case for pocketing the pandemic benefits, but it also helped build the case for locking them behind bars.)

Over nine months, Hayes and her co-conspirators filed unemployment claims for 37 different individuals. (Hopefully, they can make friends that fast in prison too.)

These fraudulent unemployment claims caused a $499,000 in loss to the United States. This pandemic perpetrator pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit unemployment fraud. It looks like she’ll be spending the next 24 months behind bars in prison.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Bristol, Tennessee Woman Sentenced to 24 Months in Prison for Role in Pandemic Unemployment Scheme,” dated July 26, 2021.

ABINGDON, Va. – A Bristol, Tenn. woman, who conspired with others to fraudulently file more than $499,000 in in pandemic unemployment benefits, was sentenced today to 24 months in federal prison.

Melissa Hayes, 51, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit unemployment fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.



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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.