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How an international crime ring is exploiting victims during COVID-19 pandemic



A new podcast on the Thomson Reuters Institute Market Insights channel features a conversation with Lukayn Hunsicker, Vice President of Financial Solutions at fintech company Feedzai, and former Global Head of Banking Fraud Product Management for BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.

Unemployment due to job loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic is a problem that continues to plague the U.S. in almost every state. Over the past several months, we have seen jobs losses unlike any other time in history other than the Great Depression.

While many people are still struggling, criminal fraudsters have ramped up their activities in recent months, attempting to exploit the pandemic by stealing money out of the funds allocated to enhanced government benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Simply put, fraudsters are stealing money from several states by filing fake unemployment claims.

Lukayn Hunsicker

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost to the wave of fake unemployment claims going undetected and being paid out to numerous scammers, but one in particular is said to have benefitted more than others: a group known as “Scattered Canary.”

Who is Scattered Canary?

In a new podcast on the Thomson Reuters Institute Market Insights channel, fraud expert Lukayn Hunsicker talks with Gina Jurva, attorney and manager of enterprise content for corporate counsel and government at Thomson Reuters, about the origins of this international criminal ring and its connection to the recent unemployment fraud crimes in several states across the country.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

They specifically discuss how Scattered Canary began as a low-level crime group with one individual committing romance scams on Craigslist for profit. Hunsicker, who has followed groups like this for most of his career, explains that Scattered Canary has been known to law enforcement for about a decade and has been ramping up its illegal activities, recruiting members along the way. They are now considered a sophisticated hacking group, literally “scattered” across the world with one purpose — to commit crime and collect the money.

Scattered Canary’s signature crime is the business email compromise and, until recently, was mostly targeting global companies and firms. That all changed rather recently as Canary has switched its focus to governments and vulnerable, overwhelmed public sector systems. Hunsicker further explains how the crime group got ahold of a treasure trove of personal identifying information and used it to create fake unemployment claims on a massive scale.

While this crime is still under active investigation in many states, including California, fraud has been detected in Washington, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida.

The podcast also explores the ways that corporations, government, and the public can work to prevent this type of fraud, including paying attention to red flag warnings and being proactive.

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