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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

United States Attorney Matthew Schneider Provides Coronavirus Prosecution Guide to State and Local Law Enforcement

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan is providing this Coronavirus Prosecution Guide to Michigan’s state and local law enforcement.  The purpose of the Guide is to help law enforcement identify cases for possible federal civil action or criminal prosecution. The Guide provides a brief description of the type of conduct being seen around the country to take advantage of the opportunity created by the pandemic.  Law enforcement officers who believe they may have a case for federal civil enforcement or criminal prosecution should contact the COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, Assistant United States Attorney John Neal, at 313-226-9644.

This Guide is a supplement to – and not a replacement of – state and local prosecutions.  “The Michigan Attorney General and our 83 County Prosecuting Attorneys are on the front lines with us, battling back against criminals who are profiting off of the Coronavirus pandemic,” said United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.  “Together with our state and local partners, we use every weapon in our arsenals to fight criminals who use this pandemic to take advantage of the people of Michigan.”

In addition to investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses, the United States Attorney’s Office will utilize the Antifraud Injunction Act (18 U.S.C. § 1345), which allows the United States to commence a civil action to enjoin a violation of the federal mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, or fraud conspiracy statutes.

To date, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country have received reports of individuals and businesses engaging in a wide range of fraudulent and criminal behavior, including:

  • Robocalls making fraudulent offers to sell respirator masks with no intent of delivery;
  • Fake COVID-19-related apps and websites that install malware or ransomware;
  • Phishing emails asking for money or presenting malware;
  • Social media scams fraudulently seeking donations or claiming to provide stimulus funds if the recipient enters his or her bank account number; 
  • Sales of fake testing kits, cures, “immunity” pills, and protective equipment;
  • Fraudulent offers for free COVID-19 testing in order to obtain Medicare beneficiary information that is used to submit false medical claims for unrelated, unnecessary, or fictitious testing or services;
  • Prescription drug schemes involving the submission of medical claims for unnecessary antiretroviral treatments or other drugs that are marketed as purported cures for COVID- 19;
  • Robberies of patients departing from hospitals or doctor offices;
  • Threats of violence against mayors and other public officials;
  • Threats to intentionally infect other people; and
  • Hate crimes against people with Asian heritage.

Conduct

Federal Charge or Cause of Action

Explanation

FRAUD

Offering fraudulent tests, preventatives, cures for the COVID‑19 epidemic.

Sale of Fake drugs/cures

15 U.S.C. § 1263

Distribution of non-conforming consumer goods

15 U.S.C. § 2068

 

For example, online marketer advertising a supplement as a preventive remedy against the COVID-19 virus

Scam charities such as soliciting donations to provide PPE to those who need it to protect against the COVID-19 epidemic.

Email Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1037

Mail Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1341

Wire Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1343

 

Such scams are likely to involve the use of the wires, telephone, internet, mail and/or a financial institution. 

Providers who bill health care benefits program for excessive testing for COVID-19.

 

Health Care Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1347

Medical providers conducting medically unnecessary testing or treatment.

Email phishing for benefit checks issued in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Email Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1037

Criminalizes sending multiple, materially false, commercial emails, such as emails that are sent through an unauthorized computer, sent through a protected computer with the intent of hiding their origin, that contain a false header, or are sent from accounts with false registration information.

 

Fraudulent COVID-19 information websites that install ransomware when you click on them.

 

Computer Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1030

A website that encourages users to click for COVID-19 virus information that then launches malware that infests consumer’s computer.

 

 

Securities fraud where the price of a stock is pumped with a false claim of a test, preventative, or cure for the COVID-19 virus.

 

Securities Fraud

15 U.S.C. § 78j(b)

Securities and Commodities Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1348

Criminalizes fraud in connection with registered securities.

Fraudulently obtaining benefits issued in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Fraud against the United States

18 U.S.C. § 1031

Emergency Benefit Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1040

Criminalizes fraud in any federal assistance program responsive to the COVID-19 epidemic. 

 

The benefit must be issued in connection with a federally declared disaster. The President has declared the COVID-19 epidemic a Stafford Act disaster. 

 

Disseminating false information about use of the COVID-19 virus as a biological weapon

 

Hoaxes about the use of biologic weapons

18 U.S.C. § 1038

Criminalizes credible hoaxes about using the COVID-19 virus as a biologic weapon.

Persons lying to obtain medication referenced during the COVID-19 epidemic.

False Statements Relating to Health Care

18 U.S.C. § 1035

For example, a person presenting with fake symptoms to obtain hydroxychloroquine.

 

Fraud schemes based on the COVID-19 epidemic that make use of an access device, a financial institution, the mail or wires.

Access Device Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1029

 

 

Mail Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1341

Wire Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1343

Bank Fraud

18 U.S.C. § 1344

 

If offender used, produced or trafficked in counterfeit or unauthorized devices (credit cards, passwords, etc.).

 

If offender used the U.S. Mail or a private/commercial carrier to send anything in furtherance of a fraud scheme.

 

If offender used a wire communication (phone call, fax, email, etc.) to transmit anything in furtherance of a fraud scheme.

 

If offender executed a scheme to defraud a financial institution or to fraudulently obtain money from a financial institution.

 

HOARDING, COUNTERFEIT GOODS, THEFT, AND SCAMS

Hoarding and/or price gouging items designated essential for combatting the COVID-19 epidemic.

Hoarding/Price Gouging of Designated Scarce Materials

50 U.S.C. §§ 4512, 4513

 

Makes it a crime to accumulate designated essential items in excess of reasonable needs, or for the purpose of selling in excess of prevailing market rates.

Selling stolen health supplies.

Sale/Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods

18 U.S.C. § 2314/2315

 

For example, selling protective items that were stolen in another state or country.

Using someone else’s identity to obtain a benefit issued in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic.

Identity Theft

18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7)

Aggravated Identity Theft

18 U.S.C. § 1028A

If offender used another person’s identity during a violation of federal law or a state felony.

 

If offender used another person’s identity during the course of an enumerated felony (18 U.S.C. § 1028A(c)).

 

Offering counterfeit goods, services or drugs to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services

18 U.S.C. § 2320

For example, merchant selling N-95 masks purporting them to be manufactured by 3M when they are not authentic N-95 masks.

 

Introduction of fake cure/adulterated drug/unsafe dietary supplement to address the COVID-19 epidemic.

Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

21 U.S.C. § 331

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act contains numerous restrictions/prohibitions on the sale of misbranded or adulterated food, drugs, or devices, and bans the introduction of unsafe supplements.

 

VIOLENT CRIME

Acts of violence against persons of Asian descent

 

Hate Crime Acts

18 U.S.C. § 249

Criminalizes injuring or using a weapon against a person because of their actual or perceived race or national origin.

 

Purposefully infecting people with the COVID-19 virus

Transfer of a Biological Weapon

18 U.S.C. § 175

 

Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction

18 U.S.C. § 2332a

Criminalizes the transfer of a biologic agent for use as a weapon.

 

 

Includes use of a weapon involving a biological agent.

 

 

Threats against public officials on account of their stance regarding the COVID-19 virus.

Threatening or Assaulting a Federal Official

18 U.S.C. § 115

Interstate Threatening Communications

18 U.S.C. § 875

 

Mailing threatening communications

18 U.S.C. § 876

 

Applies only to threats against federal officials. For example, a person threatens a federal government employee because they do not like a mandated shelter-in-place order.

 

Applies to threats made in interstate commerce, i.e., from one state to another. Could apply to internet threats made from one Michigan individual to another, because of how internet traffic is routed.

 

Applies to threats made using the U.S. mail, even those that are wholly within the State of Michigan.

Threats to infect people with the COVID-19 virus.

Interstate Threatening Communications

18 U.S.C. § 875

 

Threatening to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction

18 U.S.C. § 2332a

 

Applies to threats made in interstate commerce, i.e., from one state to another. Could apply to internet threats made from one Michigan individual to another, because of how internet traffic is routed.

 

Includes threats to use a weapon involving a biological agent.

 

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Updated March 31, 2020