- Banks in July filed a record-high number of claims of suspected business-loan fraud, according to a new report.
- At the time, banks were distributing billions of dollars in loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.
- The federal program has been under scrutiny over the possibility of fraud.
- The Project on Government Oversight study released Thursday analyzes previously unreported government data to the Treasury Department.
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Banks experienced an unusually high spike in reports of suspected business-loan fraud for the month of July, a period when they had been lending out Payment Protection Program loans to small businesses, according to a new report released Thursday.
The study, conducted by the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog, analyzed previously unreported government data and found that banks filed 1,044 suspicious-activity reports to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN.
That figure is nearly seven times the monthly average and is the highest of any month recorded in FinCEN's database, which has been operating since 2014. For comparison, 1,263 reports were filed in all of 2015, the researchers said.
The number was also far higher than that of June, when a then-record 489 reports of suspected fraud were reported.
Though the suspicious-activity claims are not "definitive evidence of fraud, the FinCEN data casts doubt on the assertion that there has been minimal fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program," the report said.
Congress approved a sweeping $660 billion in federal payouts earlier this year to help keep small businesses afloat amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The program's rollout was met with a public outcry, however, when several large companies were found to have applied for the loans.
Thursday's report adds to early analyses that have indicated fraud may have occurred as well while banks distributed the relief funds. The Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General has said the agency has launched investigations into suspected fraud reports submitted by banks.
House Democrats have previously sounded the alarm for additional oversight of the federal payouts and last week released a memo that the loans could be subject to waste and abuse. Republicans, on the other hand, also released a report on the program, praising its "resounding success."
Additional money for small businesses is being considered in a new economic package, which has been deadlocked by Congress for months, as the country suffers a recession. The PPP funding expired August 8.
The Small Business Administration provided roughly $190 billion more to businesses late last month through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which has also been under scrutiny over the possibility of fraud.