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Investigating COVID-19 crimes



A new podcast on the Thomson Reuters Institute Market Insights channel features a conversation with Don Fort, Chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation division. 

Crises of all kinds — natural disasters, financial downturns, and pandemics — usually create new opportunities for criminals to prey on the vulnerable. From stealing economic payment information to selling fake coronavirus tests and treatments, these bad actors are finding new ways to exploit individuals during our national COVID-19 emergency.

We need look no further than the headlines to see instances of scammers taking advantage of government programs such as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a program created in March as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted to prevent large-scale job losses as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the United States.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

Some of the more egregious instances involve PPP loan funds being used for such high-end luxury goods as a diamond-laden $52,000 Rolex, a gambling spree at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, two Lamborghinis, a pair of Cadillac Escalades, and a Rolls-Royce. And it isn’t just low-profile individuals alleged to be committing these crimes. One such instance involved a professional football player for the New York Jets who applied for and received a PPP loan in the amount of $1.2 million dollars which he spent on a shopping spree to buy luxury goods from high-end brands such as Gucci and Dior and at a hotel-casino.

Fortunately, government agencies and law enforcement across the country are on high alert, investigating reports of individuals and businesses involved in potentially fraudulent and criminal behaviors.

How IRS-CI investigates COVID-19-related crime

In a new podcast on the Thomson Reuters Institute Market Insights channel, Internal Revenue -Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) Chief Don Fort talks with Gina Jurva, attorney and manager of enterprise content for corporate counsel and government at Thomson Reuters, about his agency’s role in the investigation and detection of tax crimes related to the pandemic. In the podcast, the pair talked about how the current crisis puts vulnerable people and systems at risk, as well as some approaches the IRS-CI uses to find and stop these fraudulent activities.

Don Fort, Chief of the Internal Revenue’s Criminal Investigations unit

Fort, who oversees a worldwide staff of nearly 3,000 CI employees, explains how the agency is using data analytics to stop fraud related to the PPP and the CARES Act, money laundering and more.

Fort, who is retiring at the end of September after 25 years at the IRS, also discusses how the IRS-CI is bringing new technology and data tools to this fight. While the CI division has seen a variety of financial scams these last several months, his division is doing everything in its power to prevent and mitigate the harm to the public including partnering with other federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In the podcast, Fort acknowledges that much of the fraud surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is international in scope, and like so many other financial crimes, it knows no borders. As a result, it requires a global solution and the cooperation with international partners, such as the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement on cases that cross borders. While there is still much to be learned from COVID-19 fraud cases, with new instances of crime likely to continue being uncovered for months or even years to come, the joint nature of investigations operations affords fraudsters less places to hide than ever before.




This podcast is also part of the Thomson Reuters Government Influencer series, a six-part multi-media event including webinars and podcasts featuring conversations with current and former U.S. government officials which will be broadcast through the end of the year.

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