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Statement of U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain on U.S. Attorney’s Office Operations during Coronavirus Outbreak and on Coronavirus-Related Scams

PHILADELPHIA – As our government responds to the ramifications of the coronavirus and more restrictions are put in place, the virus’ impact on our lives continues to evolve.  I want to update the public on the measures that my Office is taking to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission to protect the citizens of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

During this rapidly evolving situation, one thing remains certain:  the prosecutors and staff in my Office are on duty and stand ready to ensure that our essential law enforcement functions operate effectively.  We will work together with our law enforcement partners to punish and deter illegal activity, and we will do so in a manner that promotes everyone’s health and safety.  This is not “anything goes” time for criminals. 

To that end, we have taken a proactive approach with our justice system partners to provide a coordinated response.  Together with the Federal Community Defenders’ Office and the Chief Judge in our District, we are working together to identify the best strategies for making sure that we perform our mission critical functions while taking every precaution to protect those who make our justice system work.  We also remain in constant contact with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and will continue to investigate and prosecute criminals who violate federal law.

Our doors do not close – especially in times of crisis.  We will remain vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing.  And we will be particularly ready to act to root out any crimes that feed on, and exploit, the coronavirus pandemic.  The Justice Department, and my Office, have received reports of fraudsters seeking to profit financially from the crisis.  For example, there have been reports of wrongdoers selling fake cures for the virus online, sending phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to unwitting targets, and engaging in other forms of fraud.  There also have been reports of malware being installed onto computers and mobile apps if the recipients of phishing emails click on links or attachments provided. 

This Office will perform its public safety function – coronavirus or no coronavirus.  And fraudsters and hackers should pay particular attention, as this Office will not tolerate any shameful exploitation of the virus to turn an illegal profit. 

We are working with our federal partners to put a stop to any such scams, and we will succeed in doing so.  If you or someone you know has been the victim of a coronavirus-related scam, please call the FBI at 215-418-4000 or visit tips.fbi.gov.  If the coronavirus scam is specifically Internet-related, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

We will continue to monitor and respond to this evolving situation and provide updates as needed. 

Additional Information:

Below are some of the known fraudulent schemes related to the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Fake cures: Fraudsters are advertising fake cures, fake vaccines, and so-called “immunity” pills, and including wild claims about the products’ healing powers with no scientific or medical basis.
  • Fake testing: Fraudsters are selling fake at-home testing kits or going door-to-door performing fraudulent tests in exchange for money.
  • Health care frauds: Fraudsters are offering free (and phony) coronavirus testing to obtain Medicare or other healthcare insurance information, which they use to submit false claims for benefits.
  • Fake protection and supplies: Fraudsters are advertising fake or un-tested protective equipment (including respirator masks) through websites, social media, and robocalls. The fraudsters have no real equipment to sell, or provide equipment that has not been proven to work for its advertised purpose.
  • Phishing: Fraudsters are posing as representatives from well-known institutions, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in order to trick victims into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
  • Fake health care providers: Fraudsters pose as doctors or hospital employees and contact individuals via phone or email. They make false claims that they treated a relative or friend for coronavirus and demand money for the claimed treatment.
  • Identity theft: Fraudsters are using social media to fraudulently seek donations or provide stimulus funds if the victim provides a bank account number or other personal identifying information. The fraudsters use the information entered by the victim to impersonate the victim and steal money from the victim’s bank account.
  • Securities fraud: Fraudsters are promoting securities in publicly traded companies that they falsely claim have discovered the cure for coronavirus.
  • Fake charities: Fraudsters are soliciting donations for charities to allegedly benefit people affected by the virus and pocketing the money for themselves. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office urges everyone to follow these tips to better protect themselves from these types of fraud schemes:

  • Ignore unsolicited offers for coronavirus cures, vaccines, pills, or treatment.  If there is a medical breakthrough, you will not hear about it first through an email, advertisement, or door-to-door sales pitch. Be aware that fraudsters often use addresses that differ only slightly from the entities that they are impersonating, such as “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
  • Do not share personal information with strangers. Be extremely cautious about unsolicited emails or ads that request your personal information for any purpose. Legitimate healthcare providers will not call or email you and demand medical information, personal identifying information, or money for treatment they have provided to a friend or relative. Report the contact to law enforcement. 
  • Do not open emails or links from unknown sources. In doing so, you could download malware or a virus onto your computer or device. 
  • Be extremely cautious when sending money in any form. If a business, charity, or individual is requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail, be careful. Take extra steps to verify the identity of the receiving party and the security of the transaction.
  • Have up-to-date software protections on your devices. Be sure the anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer or device is operating and up-to-date.

National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline: 1-866-720-5721; disaster@leo.gov

USAO-EDPA Coronavirus Coordinator: Deputy Criminal Chief Ron Sarachan

Recent Updates Concerning Court Operations: The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit continue to monitor the evolving situation and are following recommended guidance in order to protect public health. In accordance with this guidance, court operations have been adjusted in several areas. Please see the below court notices for recent guidance, and visit the following website for the latest court updates: https://www.paed.uscourts.gov/

Updated March 30, 2020

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