AP

House panel says lax screening helped facilitate PPP fraud

Dec 1, 2022, 9:46 AM | Updated: 10:16 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Financial technology firms abdicated their responsibility to screen out fraud in applications for a federal program designed to help small businesses stay open and keep workers employed during the pandemic, a report by a House investigations panel said Thursday.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched its investigation of the firms in May 2021 after public reports that the firms were linked to disproportionate numbers of fraudulent loans issued under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Former President Donald Trump rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses stay open and keep their workers employed. President Joe Biden maintained the program and directed money to more low-income and minority-owned companies. All told, $800 billion was spent on the program.

The financial technology firms reviewed PPP applications for lenders, which would ultimately distribute PPP money to businesses.

The report said two start-ups, Blueacorn PPP and Womply Inc. — which reviewed one in every three funded PPP loans in 2021 — were connected to significant percentages of PPP loan applications with indicators of fraud.

It said the firms used questionable screening procedures and business practices in reviewing the loans, leading to “the needless loss of taxpayer dollars,” the report said. The firms “took billions in fees from taxpayers while becoming easy targets for those who sought to defraud the PPP.”

Neither firm responded immediately to a request for comment.

The report said Womply’s fraud prevention practices were so lax that lenders describe its systems as “put together with duct tape and gum.” It said Womply’s software became a preferred product for criminal enterprises seeking to defraud the government of PPP loans. The firm also received over $5 million in PPP loans for itself, which the Small Business Administration later determined it was ineligible to receive.

Womply said in a statement sent to the committee in January that the firm’s role in the screening process was limited. “Womply did not approve PPP loan applications, issue PPP loans, or otherwise serve as a lender in the PPP. Womply helped connect borrowers with PPP lenders, which were responsible for reviewing, approving, submitting, funding, and servicing the PPP applications and loans,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

Womply referred 128,813 PPP applicants to lenders in 2020, and 2,584,420 applicants to lenders in 2021.

“We must learn from this inexcusable misconduct to erect guardrails that will help ensure that federal programs — including emergency assistance programs in future crises — are administered more effectively, efficiently, and equitably while keeping waste, fraud, and abuse to an absolute minimum,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who chairs the coronavirus crisis subcommittee.

Clyburn said the committee’s findings were sent to the Justice Department and the Small Business Administration.

In March, the Government Accountability Office reported that while agencies were able to distribute COVID-19 relief funds quickly, “the tradeoff was that they did not have systems in place to prevent and identify payment errors and fraud” due in part to “financial management weaknesses.”

Billions have been fraudulently claimed through various pandemic relief programs — including Paycheck Protection Program loans, unemployment insurance and others that were rolled out in the midst of the worldwide pandemic that shut down global economies for months.

The U.S. Secret Service in August said it has recovered $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans and returned the money to the Small Business Administration.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

2 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

2 days ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

6 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

7 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

14 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

15 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

House panel says lax screening helped facilitate PPP fraud