Farms in downtown Orlando? Some residents receive bills for CARES Act loans they didn’t apply for

ORLANDO, Fla. — While so many people in our community were struggling during the pandemic, scammers cashed in on an estimated $80 billion of your tax dollars by taking advantage of CARES Act loan programs.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray scrubbed federal data and easily identified more than 100 cases of potential fraud by searching just one type of business here in Central Florida.

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This comes at the expense of real people whose names and addresses were used for fake loans.

The Small Business Administration kept spreadsheets of everyone who applied for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and 9 Investigates used those documents to search for a type of business that isn’t too common here in Orlando: farms.

“I just kind of laughed,” homeowner Lisa Sconyers said. “What do you do? It’s kind of funny.”

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Lisa Sconyers lives near Delaney Park, just steps away from Boone High School.

“There are no farms here. I think some neighbors might have some chickens, but there are no farms here,” Sconyers said.

Sconyers doesn’t know the first thing about farming. So when she started receiving bills in the mail from the SBA under the business name Richy’s Pig Farm, she knew it was fraud.

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“Immediately,” Sconyers said.

Sconyers’ address of nearly two decades was used by a scammer to apply for an EIDL loan through the SBA. The bills now being sent to her total more than $72,000.

“It’s very frustrating. It makes me lose faith in the system that was supposed to save small businesses when the economy was struggling,” Sconyers said.

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She’s far from alone.

“Initially, I thought it was junk mail, and then when I looked at it, I thought it was some sort of fraud,” Dr. Harun Fakioglu said.

Fakioglu is a pediatric heart doctor at Arnold Palmer Hospital, but someone used his name and address to create a fake farm and cash in on a nearly $95,000 loan.

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“I’m a physician, and I see what people go through. I know businesses are affected,” Fakioglu said. “But there still needs to be checks and balances about how you’re spending this money to try to stop fraud.”

9 Investigates analyzed thousands of loan applications through a federal database and discovered more than 100 fake farms in Central Florida alone. That’s just one type of bogus business being used to divert taxpayer money.

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“It’s not overly surprising to me,” CPA Adam Markowitz said about our findings.

Markowitz described a perfect storm of an unprepared SBA and an effort to get as much help out to the economy as quickly as possible.

A recent memo from the House Select Subcommittee on the COVID-19 crisis shows as much as $79 billion in potentially fraudulent EIDL applications were paid out over the last year.

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“The CARES Act became law on March 27, 2020, and it started putting out EIDL money four days later, and PPP money three days after that,” Markowitz said.

Sconyers stopped calling the SBA because she couldn’t get through to a real person. We also could not get in touch with anyone on her behalf.

“How does someone get $72,500? How do you get that? It’s not like it’s $10,000 or even $5,000. It’s over $70,000. How is it even possible to have this much fraud?” Sconyers said.

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The $354 payments being billed to her home state they are due starting in August.

“I know what my debts are, I know what I owe, and I know that I’m never paying this. This is never happening,” she said. “You gave this money away without checking or doing any due diligence, and that’s on them.”

The bottom line is you do not need to pay if you didn’t apply or receive money, but you should expect this to take time to get sorted out. The Office of Inspector General is now reviewing 1.34 million EIDL applications and payments for fraud, including nearly 750,000 referrals for potential identity theft.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.