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COVID Unemployment Scammer Sentenced to Prison

A fraudster in California will spend more than three years in federal prison for using stolen information purchased on the darkweb to fraudulently receive more than $500,000 in COVID-19 benefits.

According to court documents, Cara Marie Kirk-Connell, 32, of Menifee, Riverside County, obtained stolen personal information from the darkweb and watched YouTube tutorials on committing unemployment fraud. She then applied for unemployment insurance benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) using the stolen information she had purchased on the dark web.

Previously: CA Woman Used Stolen Info to Receive COVID-19 Benefits

Kirk-Connell was arrested on September 11, 2020, after the Murrieta Police Department conducted a traffic stop on her vehicle on September 10. The search resulted in the seizure of eight unemployment benefits debit cards in various names, an unemployment benefits debit card in her name, more than $30,000 in cash, and receipts of numerous ATM withdrawals.

After being arrested, Kirk-Connell told the police that she knew people who accessed the darkweb to purchase PII that she then used to file fraudulent unemployment insurance claims. Kirk-Connell also revealed that once she applied for the benefits in other names, she received debit cards that she activated using the stolen Social Security numbers and Pins of her choice. She then made numerous ATM withdrawals and paid for other expenditures with the cards.

Evidence seized from Kirk-Connell’s hotel room and storage unit revealed that she had access to more than 50 stolen identities. An analysis carried out on California’s EDD system showed that Kirk-Connell had used the identities to file for approximately 54 claims. Kirk-Connell received debit cards loaded with a total of more than $530,000 from the claims. At the time of her arrest, Kirk-Connell had already spent close to $270,000.

Kirk-Connell pleaded guilty to one count of use of an unauthorized access device in December 2020.

On April 9, 2021, United States District Judge André Birotte sentenced Kirk-Connell to three years and one month in federal prison.

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