Fake websites, phishing emails and false statements: many fraudsters have been using these kinds of tactics to profit from the financial aid given out by Germany to help businesses and freelancers survive the coronavirus crisis.
And it's now emerged that investigators are probing thousands of suspected fraud cases nationwide connected to Germany's Corona-Soforthilfe-Zuschuss (coronavirus emergency aid grant).
In total, authorities are dealing with at least 5,100 suspected cases of subsidy fraud, money laundering, falsification of evidence-relevant information and spying on data, research by DPA reporters revealed.
At the end of May there were about 2,200 cases, but this number has crept up as more fraudulent activity comes to light.
Authorities across Germany said that the numbers were changing almost daily, indicating the dynamic situation.
However, the figures from all 16 states are not fully known at this point. The state office of criminal investigation in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, was unable to provide any concrete information before investigations have been concluded.
Meanwhile, the amount of money that states are losing to scammers isn't clear yet either as many authorities said they'll have to wait until their investigations are complete.
According to DPA research, however, the amount could be at least €22 million nationwide.
How is Germany supporting businesses and the self-employed?
Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to set up large aid programmes for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which is set to push the country into the “worst recession” in post-war history, according to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.
The German government put together a €600 billion bailout fund for large companies, a state-backed scheme offering quick loans of up to €500,000 to small and medium-sized enterprises, and a €50 billion hardship fund to give grants to small businesses, the self-employed and freelancers. Crucially these hand outs don't need to be paid back.
As Germany is a federal country, individual states also set up their own schemes, sometimes with differing criteria and conditions. Some states were praised for giving out cash quickly. In Berlin, for example, aid was paid out in some cases in just 24-48 hours.
There was evidence early on that scammers had been trying to hijack the aid programme.
In one instance, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia was forced to suspend its aid programme for a week after discovering that criminals were exploiting it to divert hundreds of thousands of euros into their own pockets.
Subsidy fraud – (der) Subventionsbetrug
Money laundering (die) Geldwäsche
Investigations – (die) Ermittlungen
Suspected cases – (die) Verdachtsfälle
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