In a recent report to lawmakers, Brian D. Millar, Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, argued that “Congress’s unprecedented investment in the American economy has been prey to unprecedented levels of crime and fraud.” At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government swiftly enacted programs to support affected citizens and businesses. While the quick action led to relief, many individuals and groups took advantage of the government funding. Now, agencies are investigating these claims to identify criminally fraudulent activity and using artificial intelligence (AI).
The government spent over $5 trillion in pandemic relief funding during 2020-2021, including the $2.1 trillion CARES Act and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, to help stabilize the economy. While the goal of economic stability was achieved, there is plenty of evidence of fraudulent activity. The Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) are using data and analytics tools to investigate fraud and arrest those that abused the funding and committed crimes. Chris Covington, Manager of the Fraud Task Force at PRAC, commented that the organization has “seen a range of fraud schemes. We’ve had individuals and organized crime groups steal pandemic relief funds and use them for things like luxury cars, jewelry, and cryptocurrency ‘investments.’ And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, given the scope of potential fraud.”
By using AI, agencies are looking at data for trends, patterns, and anomalies. For example, AI can detect clusters of loan applications with similar characteristics like the same location, IP address, or dollar amount. In addition to the automation helping analysts sort through data more quickly, it assists committees in overseeing massive amounts of data and assessing the level of fraud, waste, and abuse in pandemic relief programs.
Agencies are developing risk models to identify potential incidents of pandemic funding fraud. These models can prioritize and flag individuals for human follow-up and help watchdogs root out issues like identity theft, multi-dipping, and fraud. Robert A. Westbrooks, Executive Director of PRAC, commented that “watchdogs stand a better chance of identifying fraud by combining data sets and using tools like link analysis and anomaly detection. They stand an even greater chance of catching fraudsters and holding them accountable by sharing informed data insights across the oversight community, among state and local partners, and with investigators in the field.”
With AI, the federal government is more effectively preventing and investigating the exploitation of pandemic relief funds. The mission priority is to prosecute these cases and ultimately recover the billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted. Agencies are determined to ensure that these taxpayer funds are being put to good use and help communities across the country during these difficult times.
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