A congressional report has found that obscure financial technology companies “with little to no oversight from lenders” have fueled rampant Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud. The report estimates a total fraud of about $64 billion, with fintechs contributing significantly to that total.
Little-known financial tech companies, also known as “fintechs,” have taken ” billions in fees from taxpayers while becoming easy targets for those who sought to defraud the PPP,” an investigation by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found.
The Select Subcommittee began its probe following reports that “fintechs participating in the PPP approved a high volume of fraudulent PPP loan applications.”
The PPP, which passed Congress in the spring of 2020, offered unprecedented support for small business owners to help them maintain operations and keep their employees throughout the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
No more than three years after the PPP went into effect, however, it is clear that small business owners were not the only ones to benefit from this program.
“At least tens of billions of dollars in PPP funds were likely disbursed to ineligible or fraudulent applicants, often with the involvement of fintechs, causing tremendous harm to taxpayers,” the congressional report states.
The report added that “fintechs were given extraordinary responsibility in administering the nation’s largest pandemic relief program — a responsibility that some of the fintechs that facilitated the highest volumes of loans were either unable or unwilling to fulfill.”
“Many of these companies appear to have failed to stop obvious and preventable fraud, leading to the needless loss of taxpayer dollars,” the congressional report reads.
One fintech called Kabbage had furloughed half of its employees who were tasked with assessing risk and reviewing accounts. Nonetheless, Kabbage continued funding PPP loans by outsourcing the work to “temporary contractors,” the report said.
“Despite the risk of fraud, Kabbage made staffing reductions throughout 2020 that likely weakened its capacity to address fraud,” the report read. “Press reports indicate that Kabbage furloughed employees in March 2020, anticipating a contraction in business during the pandemic, but that participation in the program ‘saved’ the struggling fintech.”
“After Kabbage’s acquisition by American Express in October 2020, PPP borrowers were left at the mercy of an underfunded and understaffed spin-off company that failed to properly service their loans and would later file for bankruptcy,” the report added.
Another fintech called Womply had fraud prevention practices described by lending partners as systems that were “put together with duct tape and gum.” The fintech was also accused of allowing “rampant fraud” to infiltrate the PPP.
A third fintech called Blueacorn — which received more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars via PPP processing fees — gave its employees little to no training on the loan underwriting process. They weren’t even instructed on how to spot a fake driver’s license.
Blueacorn loan reviewers who spoke to the Select Subcommittee said they had received poor training, and were pressured to “push through” PPP loans, even if they doubted the authenticity of the loan’s supporting documentation.
A former Blueacorn loan reviewer added that the company’s reviewers were “submitting PPP loans to the SBA the first minute of the first day” of their employment, despite having “no formal or informal training on loan underwriting.”
Additionally, these reviewers had “no training on how to properly identify and report fake government identification such as a driver’s license,” the ex-Blueacorn loan reviewer said.
The reviewers were also told “the faster the better,” and that each loan application review “should take you less than 30 seconds,” the congressional report said.