Secret Service launches sweeping pandemic fraud investigation

Cyber Crime Task Force reviewing 1,500 cases, national coordinator says

The newly appointed coordinator for the U.S. Secret Service Pandemic Fraud division said law enforcement members of the Cyber Task Force are working leads to track stolen state and national benefits estimated to be between $63 billion to $100 billion or more.

Roy Dotson Jr. told News 6 that Florida is probably one of the top 10 states on the cyber hit list with upwards of $2 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits stolen in 2021 alone.

“The Secret Service currently has over 1,500 active criminal investigations,” Dotson said. “That’s a combination of pandemic benefits and all the other benefits programs too.”

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Dotson is stationed in Jacksonville serving as Assistant Special Agent in Charge as well as his new role as National Pandemic Fraud Coordinator.

He was recognized by the Department of Homeland Security in 2020, awarded the Secretary’s Exceptional Service Gold Medal for detecting and alerting the “nation to a vast transnational cyber-criminal conspiracy intended to blunt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Every state has been hit, some harder than others,” Dotson said. “We’re going out there and hitting the ground to recover everything we can whether it’s U.S. or state government funds that have been stolen.”

Dotson said cryptocurrency used to move stolen benefits to bitcoin wallets is a “sign of the times.” Men and women used as money mules are targeted to accept funds into bank accounts and moved to other mules before the funds are rerouted out of the country.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick on that, something widely used during these fraud cases,” Dotson said ”They will eventually ask you to open an account and move money for them for some reason, some type of ruse”

The Secret Service is also waiting for the 2022 tax season to uncover a new wave of fraud victims currently unaware their identities were used to steal unemployment benefits in Florida and across the country.

Dotson said a partnership between law enforcement, the community and Congress is the key.

“I think we will be better for the next pandemic or next disaster where aid is distributed,” he said. “Being proactive at the start, hopefully realizing we’re going to deal with it, see it coming and react to it quickly.”

If you have an unemployment fraud issue email or text the words make ends meet to 407-676-7428

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.