Coronavirus aid: Germany investigating thousands of suspected fraud cases

The German government has been supporting businesses and freelancers with financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic. But now investigators are probing several thousand fraud cases.

Coronavirus aid: Germany investigating thousands of suspected fraud cases
Photo: DPA

Fake websites, phishing emails and false statements: many fraudsters have been using these kinds of tactics to profit from the financial aid given out by Germany to help businesses and freelancers survive the coronavirus crisis.

And it's now emerged that investigators are probing thousands of suspected fraud cases nationwide connected to Germany's Corona-Soforthilfe-Zuschuss (coronavirus emergency aid grant).

In total, authorities are dealing with at least 5,100 suspected cases of subsidy fraud, money laundering, falsification of evidence-relevant information and spying on data, research by DPA reporters revealed.

At the end of May there were about 2,200 cases, but this number has crept up as more fraudulent activity comes to light.

Authorities across Germany said that the numbers were changing almost daily, indicating the dynamic situation.

READ ALSO: Is Germany doing enough to ensure small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis?

However, the figures from all 16 states are not fully known at this point. The state office of criminal investigation in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, was unable to provide any concrete information before investigations have been concluded.

Meanwhile, the amount of money that states are losing to scammers isn't clear yet either as many authorities said they'll have to wait until their investigations are complete.

According to DPA research, however, the amount could be at least €22 million nationwide.

How is Germany supporting businesses and the self-employed?

Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to set up large aid programmes for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which is set to push the country into the “worst recession” in post-war history, according to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

The German government put together a €600 billion bailout fund for large companies, a state-backed scheme offering quick loans of up to €500,000 to small and medium-sized enterprises, and a €50 billion hardship fund to give grants to small businesses, the self-employed and freelancers. Crucially these hand outs don't need to be paid back.

As Germany is a federal country, individual states also set up their own schemes, sometimes with differing criteria and conditions. Some states were praised for giving out cash quickly. In Berlin, for example, aid was paid out in some cases in just 24-48 hours.

There was evidence early on that scammers had been trying to hijack the aid programme.

In one instance, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia was forced to suspend its aid programme for a week after discovering that criminals were exploiting it to divert hundreds of thousands of euros into their own pockets.


Subsidy fraud – (der) Subventionsbetrug

Money laundering (die) Geldwäsche

Investigations – (die) Ermittlungen

Suspected cases – (die) Verdachtsfälle

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.


Member comments

  1. You say the Government is supporting Freelancers, but this is not the case in the NRW. The € 2,000 was “first come, first served”, and the € 9,000 loan could ONLY be used for Business costs, not for food, rent etc. Some States were fair, some not. You should really investigate & do an article on it. Many of my Freelance friends had to go on Hartz IV as they got ZERO support.

  2. If they were able to investigate the amount of money spent on drugs in Berlin before and after the aid was paid, they’d be in for a serious surprise 😉

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.