HomeNSW Police crack down on coronavirus pandemic business grant fraud

NSW Police crack down on coronavirus pandemic business grant fraud



Fraudsters taking advantage of pandemic grants meant for small businesses made one big mistake that allowed police to track them down.

NSW Police suspect a single group of fraudsters submitted 120 bogus grant applications to steal Covid-19 funds meant for struggling small businesses.

The swindlers had teams of lawyers, accountants and the technical know-how that was necessary to strike the pandemic grant system on a large scale, a senior NSW Police commander told NCA NewsWire.

But investigators were able to identify the alleged fraud by comparing phone numbers used in the grant applications with information kept in a police database.

“Arrests will be coming soon,” Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said.

That alleged crime syndicate and its long list of fake companies form part of a suspected $20m fraud wave targeting business support payments.

Service NSW, the government agency that administers the microbusiness grants, has told police it suspects 2.6 per cent of all payments were made to fraudulent applications.

Those applications were worth a combined $15.9m. Another $4.6 million in grant money was prevented from being paid out after being flagged by fraud investigators.

Mr Smith said of the alleged syndicate that submitted 120 applications: “It’s set up to do fraud. They often use front companies, pretending to be small businesses, and they just hit it again and again and again.”

He said many small business owners would have struggled to complete the paperwork necessary to prove their revenue downturn during the coronavirus lockdown was large enough to warrant government assistance.

But professional fraudsters can easily submit scores of applications because of their “savvy and technical skills”.

“The systems become vulnerable because they’re designed to help some punter whose business isn’t turning in revenue,” Mr Smith said.

“The syndicates have the logistics to hammer it.”

Police investigators have targeted the swindlers using artificial intelligence software developed during another investigation into bushfire assistance fraud.

“We can connect the service delivery system to our database to analyse and cross-reference,” Mr Smith said.

“It might be a mobile phone number they used in the application that they also used the last time they were charged.

“We developed these tools during the bushfires to mass analyse information. It’s the perfect opportunity to zero in on the bad guys.”




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