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Internet fraudster pleads guilty to $400k COVID scam

A California man used personally identifying information (PII) to submit fraudulent applications online for COVID-related unemployment benefits, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced.

Nhan Hoang Pham, 36, of Santa Ana, pleaded guilty at a federal court on January 23, confessing to acquiring “without authorization or permission the PII of people living in California, Texas and Michigan” that he had never met between 2020 and 2021.

The PII he stole from two dozen victims included names, dates of birth and social security numbers – vital data often sought by cybercriminals to facilitate crimes such as phishing scams or identity theft.

In this case, Pham used it to create fraudulent benefit applications, which he then submitted online to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) that oversees the state’s welfare program, scamming the government body out of $408,496.

In his greed, Pham aspired to amass considerably more than he received – applying for a total of $1.255,350 using the PII he had stolen and receiving money at addresses that he, and not the victims he impersonated, had access to.

Instead of receiving more than a million in ill-gotten gains, the crook now stands to rack up a jail sentence that could see him spend up to 30 years behind bars when he is sentenced on May 22.

“Pham’s fraudulent applications sought federally funded pandemic benefits intended for the jobless and represented that the victims whose PII was unlawfully used received mail at Anaheim addresses that, in fact, Pham controlled,” said the DoJ.

The US Secret Service, the US Department of Labor, the Orange County District Attorney, and local police in Santa Ana all helped the EDD bring Pham to justice.

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