Corona help: Most scammers are in Berlin


Status: 03/22/2023 06:06 a.m

The amount of damage known to date for fraud with corona aid and test centers is a good 500 million euros. That comes from one rbb-Survey at the State Criminal Police Offices. However, the data is not recorded separately everywhere.

The internet server of the Investitionsbank Berlin (IBB) was not prepared for this onslaught. Shortly after the start of the Corona emergency aid program, the computer system collapsed on March 27, 2020: tens of thousands of self-employed people and small businesses tried to apply for the grants via the online portal as quickly as possible. The money was to flow quickly and unbureaucratically to those who got into economic hardship as a result of the first lockdown.

But the news also got around among potential scammers. “It spread like wildfire. It was then: Have you gotten your money yet?” reports Jochen Sindberg, head of the white-collar crime department at the Berlin State Criminal Police Office (LKA). It was made very easy for scammers, lacking simple control mechanisms.

Investigation team at the LKA

Three years later, the potential damage is at least 211 million euros. In the meantime, a separate investigation group, the EG Corona, has been set up at the Berlin LKA. 30 employees are investigating more than 13,000 cases against suspected fraudsters. This puts Berlin at the top nationwide. This is from a poll rbb24 research at all state criminal investigation offices in Germany.

In second place is North Rhine-Westphalia with around 5,400 investigations and potential damage of 79 million euros. So far, 530 procedures have been initiated in Brandenburg and the damage to date has been stated at five million euros. Overall, the damage from the aid alone adds up to around 400 million euros across Germany. However, some State Criminal Police Offices were not able to provide specific information because there is no special evaluation of fraud related to Corona.

Early warning

The Berlin LKA noticed early on that there were mass attempts at fraud, because the banks had issued a large number of suspected money laundering reports. “We then contacted the Senate administration and the IBB to remedy the situation. However, that did not work to the extent that we would have liked,” remembers department head Jochen Sindberg. Critics’ criticism of the “quick and unbureaucratic help” was perceived as a disturbance.

Only with the later economic aids, such as the bridging aids, were there improvements. But a lot had happened by then. The IBB shared rbb24– Research on this in writing with: “The assumption that the IBB tests were less suitable is wrong. The public prosecutor’s office has confirmed that the IBB has not found any breach of duty or misconduct in connection with the granting of corona aid.”

In July 2022, the investigations against those responsible at IBB for allegations of infidelity or aiding and abetting infidelity, which had been initiated in June 2020, were discontinued. In the exceptional situation caused by the corona virus, the conscious fundamental decision to refrain from an in-depth examination of the applications before the emergency aid is paid out is not criminally objectionable, according to the press release from the public prosecutor.

Ministry has no overview of fraud cases

During the pandemic, around seven billion euros in economic aid were paid out in Berlin, the IBB announced. In total, more than 76 billion euros flowed into Germany, according to the Federal Ministry of Economics’ response to a request from rbb24-Research. However, the ministry does not have an up-to-date overview of the cases of fraud or valid figures on the extent of the damage.

“Since the investigations, which are usually initiated on the basis of indications of improper application, are often not yet completed, a statement on a potential amount of damage cannot be made at this time,” says the press office of the ministry. This can be expected at the end of 2025 at the earliest, when the final reports from the federal states on the Corona economic aid must be available.

Free citizen tests were introduced in the second year of the pandemic. And here, too, scammers had an easy time of it. “It was shocking for me to see that after the experience we had with the emergency aid, we saw a new playground,” says Sindberg from the Berlin LKA. Here, too, there was a lack of effective control.

According to the nationwide survey of all state criminal investigation offices, the damage from billing fraud with corona tests totals more than 134 million euros. However, only Berlin, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony and Baden-Württemberg have given current figures. Baden-Württemberg is at the top with 76 million euros, followed by Berlin with 32 million euros.

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