In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the US Congress moved extremely quickly to enact the largest economic stimulus bill in modern history. At Anders, we’ve been dissecting the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), including each of the stimulus elements in the Act. One major portion of that economic stimulus, estimated at $669 billion, came in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans (or PPP Loans). These PPP Loans were potentially forgivable loans issued to small businesses with the intention of keeping their employees employed.
While PPP loans offered much-needed assistance to many businesses impacted by COVID-19, there have been a few instances where the relief efforts were abused. We are now in the midst of the first wave of notable PPP Loan fraud cases, which presumably will continue to make headlines for quite some time.
Uncovering PPP Fraud
PPP Loan issuance began in earnest in April 2020. In a matter of months, alleged PPP Loan fraud was already being reported across the nation.
In late July 2020, it was reported that a Miami, FL man had been charged with bank fraud for allegedly lying on PPP Loan applications. The alleged fraudster used the PPP Loan proceeds for luxury items such as purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue, luxury hotels, jewelry stores, and most notably a Lamborghini Huracán EVO, valued at nearly $320,000.
On August 4, 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a press release regarding a Houston, TX entrepreneur who allegedly obtained more than $1.6 million in PPP Loans, using those funds to purchase a Lamborghini Urus, a Rolex watch, and real estate among other things.
In September, Reuters reported that according to an internal memo, JP Morgan Chase & Co., one of the many banks tasked with distributing the PPP Loans, was investigating employees who may have been involved in the misuse of federal funds meant to help struggling small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Most recently, former NFL wide receiver Josh Bellamy was arrested as one of eleven participants in an alleged $24 million PPP Loan scheme. Bellamy allegedly used funds to purchase luxury goods from Gucci and Dior and withdrew over $300,000 in cash.
These are just a handful of notable PPP Loan fraud examples that have made the news headlines. As of mid-September, the Justice Department had charged 57 people with trying to steal a total of $175 million in PPP Loans, and this is likely just the beginning.
Preventing PPP Fraud
To ensure this type of fraud doesn’t happen in your company, businesses should become familiar with the concept of the fraud triangle, and how it can be a useful tool in understanding fraudulent behavior. Put simply, the concept theorizes that fraud is likely to occur when three elements occur together. Those elements are opportunity, motive/pressure, and rationalization.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an unprecedented governmental response in an attempt to prevent millions from losing their jobs.
In a haste to distribute these funds, an unprecedented opportunity for fraudsters was created which would not have been available under normal circumstances. There was no time for the PPP Loans to go through the normal vetting and underwriting procedures required for most commercial loans, as more than 5.2 million PPP Loan applications were prepared and processed during a matter of months.
At the same time, in what was likely the worst economic downturn since the great depression, there was ample motive and pressure for many to commit fraud. That is casting the ever-present motive of greed to the side.
Finally, while we know fraud is not a victimless crime, some may find it easy to rationalize “borrowing” money from the Federal Government. Afterall, the Federal Government just prints the money, don’t they? And who is going to miss a few hundred thousand dollars from a $2.2 trillion relief bill?
In reality, these fraudulent actions hurt us all. Taxpaying citizens are the ones being taken advantage of. Further, people are stealing from a program designed to help struggling businesses keep employees on the payroll during a time of great turmoil.
Sadly, but predictably, these fraud cases are appearing, and unfortunately will likely continue for some time to come but preventing fraud in your own company is key.
If you have any questions regarding PPP Loans or fraud prevention, please contact an Anders advisor below. Learn more about Anders Forensic and Litigation services or how we help businesses with COVID-19 Business Recovery.