Fraudulent rent relief claims divert funds, delay responses to those in need

One security expert believes that 25% to 30% of rent relief claims are fraudulent
CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Have fraudsters cracked the code to cheat the state's rental assistance program? The CEO of a major risk reduction firm says yes.

International crime rings hit the Employment Development Department for $40 billion in stolen tax dollars. Now some warn the same thing is happening with the rental assistance program. The big loser in all this are those truly in need of help to prevent eviction.

Dave Arcieri has put in a lot of work into this home in Castro Valley since he bought it seven years ago.

"I'm not a landlord. I own no, you know, properties, you know, other than, than my home," Arcieri said.

Yet he received a letter from the state at his home addressed to "Xennia Hamilton," who was supposedly renting his home.

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The letter informed her that "your current landlord, David Arcieri, is inviting you to apply for the COVID-19 rent relief program."

"They somehow got a hold of my full name, my address, and my social security number," Arcieri said.

Haywood Talcove thinks he knows how that happened. The CEO of Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions Group explored what he described as the "Instagram for the underworld," Telegram.

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"I noticed at least 18 individuals advertising access to rental assistance fraud in the state of California," Talcove said.

He found what criminals referred to as "sauce." Those are guides and personal identifiable information that would enable the bad guys to cheat the state out of its money.

"The transnational criminal groups are taking this money, they're moving it into an anonymous wallet and they're running it into some sort of crypto and you will never get it back," he said.

He describes 25% to 30% of the claims for rent relief as fraudulent.

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Geoffrey Ross of the California Department of Housing and Community Development says his security team estimates the amount of fraud at less than 1%. "I have no idea where you would get that number. And I don't know of an expert that's communicated to me and my team," Ross said.

"We have an amount of money that we believe, warrants investigation under fraud, pending all of our different tests," Ross continued.

"So clearly, I don't think they're aware because if they were aware, they would be implementing new systems and procedures to prevent it," Haywood Talcove said.

Back in Castro Valley, Dave Arcieri is just hoping to get someone in the state to listen to him.

He first reported the fraud to the state on January 4. For three weeks, no one got back to him.

"I want the state to acknowledge that you know they've received, you know, my complaint, that fraud has been, you know, committed in my name," Arcieri said.

We brought Arcieri's concerns to Ross.

"That's something I will take back to the team," Ross said.

And he did. Within a day, someone did reach out to Arcieri. Arcieri says he won't be satisfied until someone is prosecuted. However, he was happy to learn that the fraudulent claim in his name was not paid out.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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