As the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to evolve, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting our communities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia is working closely with our law enforcement partners to guard against criminals who might seek to exploit this crisis for their own personal profit. We remain committed to ensuring that the rule of law and public safety are not eroded during this critical time.
To enable our communities to protect themselves, we are highlighting several fraud schemes connected to COVID-19 and steps that you can take to avoid them. To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Common COVID-19 Scams
Fraudsters frequently prey upon vulnerable individuals during difficult times. Already, scammers have devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19. They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms as a ruse to take your money and personal information. Some examples of scams linked to COVID-19 include:
- Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
- Medicare scams: Scammers are offering free COVID-19 testing for those on Medicare and requesting Medicare beneficiary information from those interested in such testing. Scammers are then submitting false medical claims for unrelated, unnecessary, or fictitious testing or services.
- Prescription drug scams: Scammers are similarly submitting medical claims for unnecessary antiretroviral treatments or other drugs that are falsely marketed as purported cures for COVID-19.
- Supply scams: Scammers are using robocalls and online resources, such as fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses that claim to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
- Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Benefit scams: Scammers are offering stimulus funds through various channels, including social media, if the recipient provides his or her bank account number.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware, giving money, or providing personal identifying and financial information.
- Website and App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating websites and mobile apps designed to track the spread of, or otherwise provide updates on, COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
- Price Gouging scams: Individuals and businesses may sell essential goods, like hand sanitizer, for significantly higher prices than in a non-emergency setting. It is legally considered price gouging when the price of one of these products increases more than 20 percent its price one week prior to an emergency declaration from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Threats: Scammers and others are threatening to intentionally infect people or engage in acts of violence against others.
How to Protect Yourself
U.S. Attorney Terwilliger urges everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
- Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
- Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
- Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
- Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
- Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
- Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
- Report any threats of violence or intentional infection to the appropriate authorities.
- For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
How to Report COVID-19 Fraud
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia is committed to pursuing justice on behalf of anyone affected by a COVID-19 fraud scheme. With the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, we have partnered with federal and Virginia state law enforcement leaders to form the Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force. This task force is a joint federal and state partnership focused on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting fraud related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia. It is led by Assistant United States Attorneys from both the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, in partnership with experienced fraud investigators from the FBI and Virginia State Police. The task force reviews and investigates all credible leads of fraud associated with COVID-19, regardless of loss amount, focusing on schemes to exploit vulnerable populations, including the elderly and concerned citizens.
If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud scheme or want to report suspicious activity, you can contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact EDVA's COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke at email@example.com or 804-819-5416.