Statement from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia on COVID-19 Scam Prevention Measures
WASHINGTON — As the District of Columbia and this nation face the unprecedented public health emergency posed by the pandemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is working with law enforcement, the court system, and community partners to ensure that essential law enforcement functions continue to operate during the crisis. My Office is committed to safeguarding our justice system and protecting the safety and security of this city and our nation.
Among the threats posed by the COVID-19 outbreak is criminal wrongdoing related to the public health crisis. In particular, we are receiving reports of scams aimed at exploiting fears and spreading disinformation about the pandemic. For example, there are reports of individuals and businesses using the internet to sell fake cures for COVID-19, market products falsely claiming to mitigate COVID-19, and fraudulently retail COVID-19 supplies, such as face masks and hand sanitizer. We are also aware of reports of phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and reports of malware being inserted onto mobile apps designed to track the spread of the virus. The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic. This sort of conduct cannot be tolerated.
The Attorney General has therefore directed every U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic. My Office intends to do just that. Consistent with the Attorney General’s direction, we are taking the following steps.
First, my Office is committed to pushing back against disinformation campaigns and supporting efforts to educate the public about the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Although our in-person community outreach programs, such as community meetings and school based programs, are curtailed for now, we will work to ensure that citizens in contact with my Office receive truthful information about COVID-19. Let me start by saying this: as public health authorities have said, there is no cure or treatment for COVID-19, there are no home test kits for the disease, and the FDA has not licensed any preventative products. Websites or retailers claiming otherwise are part of a scam. I encourage citizens to consult the website of the CDC for the latest information about COVID-19 and how citizens can prevent its spread. The CDC’s website is available at www.cdc.gov.
Second, as detailed in a joint press release with the District of Columbia’s Office of Attorney General, my Office is partnering with them to detect COVID-19 scams, prevent citizens from falling prey to them, and hold fraudsters accountable. Today, we are launching a COVID-19 Pandemic Fraud Hotline, 202-252-7022 and USADC.COVID19@usdoj.gov through which citizens can report suspected scams related to the pandemic. The Hotline will prompt callers to leave a message reporting suspected scams, including whatever detailed information they can provide that might aid law enforcement in identifying and stopping fraudsters. We will monitor the Hotline’s voicemail and email accounts and provide appropriate leads to law enforcement partners, such as the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspector, Metropolitan Police Department, and other local and federal authorities. District of Columbia residents can also submit complaints of suspected scams, fraud, or other consumer complaints to the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia by calling its Consumer Protection Hotline at 202-442-9828 or by emailing Consumer.Protection@dc.gov.
Third, my Office will appoint a COVID-19 Pandemic Fraud Coordinator, who will lead the investigation and federal prosecution of these frauds in the District of Columbia, and who will serve as the principal liaison with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, local and federal law enforcement agencies, other U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Pandemic Fraud Coordinator will work with these partners to develop strategies to detect fraud schemes and prevent them.
The challenges posed by the spread of COVID-19 threaten the safety and security of the District of Columbia and our nation. My Office will not allow those threats to be multiplied, or for citizens’ understandable anxiety to be exploited, by criminals looking to profit on a public health emergency. We are committed to detecting, investigating, and prosecuting these fraudsters and will devote whatever time, energy, and resources are necessary to do so.