AVON PARK, Fla. (WFLA) – Retired detective Robert Crews revived his law enforcement skills to stop a fraudulent COVID-19 relief loan for $155,000 and prevent his social security number and name from getting further tangled in a multi-billion dollar fraud scheme.
Crews, 71, of Avon Park, was alerted to a “hard inquiry” on his credit report about a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan he never applied for – an indicator fraud remains active in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program aimed at keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic.
But bogus businesses, including several phony farms in Tampa, are getting a slice of the $190 billion pie, according to an SBA Office of Inspector General report that flagged more than $78 billion in potentially fraudulent loans.
“The nightmare started last Monday,” Crews said. “First, I find out someone changed my email address. Experian advised me a ‘hard inquiry’ from the SBA had been received that morning and it was for an emergency loan out of their Texas office.”
Crews spent two days contacting the credit bureaus to “lock” his files. He also found out from the SBA the loan application in his name included a routing number that is not connected to his bank, offering a potential clue to who would’ve actually received the money.
The 37-year Highland County Sheriff’s Office veteran said the process to clear his name took a big “stress toll” on him, but he hopes other victims will also go to the feds.
“Hopefully if the federal agencies get enough reports, they will make this a priority to put these criminals away,” Crews said. “Our tax dollars are being stolen by unscrupulous people who only care about themselves and not the millions of people who need assistance.”
While Crews foiled the loan before the money was transferred, an 8 On Your Side investigation into several phony farms alerted dozens of others who didn’t know their information was used for loans.
Several other Tampa Bay area residents have received invoices informing them they need to start paying back money they didn’t apply for.
SBA spokesperson Kathy Cook from the agency’s Atlanta-based Office of Disaster Assistance said there are “checks and balances in place” to guard against fraud but she would not provide specifics.
With the House Small Business Committee approving another $50 billion in emergency pandemic aid, Rep. Gus Bilirakis said congress will be putting pressure on the SBA to tighten its process to prevent fraud.
“There’s going to be legislation,” Bilirakis said. “Some people make mistakes but what’s going on here is unacceptable.”