United States Attorney William D. Hyslop Announces Efforts to Combat Covid-19 Scams
Spokane, Washington – William D. Hyslop, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that the United States Department of Justice has established a coordinated, nationwide response to allegations of a wide array of fraudulent and otherwise illegal schemes to exploit the national emergency caused by COVID-19 (the coronavirus).
United States Attorney Hyslop stated, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office, together with its law enforcement partners, is fully operational and is continuing to fulfill its public safety mission, including ferreting out COVID-19 fraud schemes. Essential law enforcement functions including investigations, the preparation and execution of warrants, filing of charges, and case litigation continue. Make no mistake, the Eastern District of Washington’s federal prosecutors and support staff are working with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement to safeguard our justice system and protect the safety and security of our nation during this challenging time.”
If you (or someone you know) believe you have been the target or victim of a coronavirus-related scam, you are strongly encouraged to make a report to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline (866.720.5721), or to the NCDF email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. The NCDF’s mission is to improve and further the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of criminal conduct related to emergencies, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, and to advocate for the victims of such conduct. The NCDF Hotline is available to receive reports from the public of potential fraud 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers will be connected with a live operator or can leave a message detailing their report.
In addition, the public may also make such reports to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center by visiting www.IC3.gov. The FBI is alert to fraudsters attempting to exploit the COVID-19 outbreak. The FBI has extensive expertise in cybercrime and is presently monitoring issues relating to phishing attempts and efforts to infect emails, links, and postings with malware. Crime tips of any kind, including alleged civil rights violations, can be submitted to the FBI by visiting
tips.fbi.gov or by calling the FBI Seattle Field Office, which has a robust presence in Eastern Washington, at 206.622.0460. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington has appointed a Coronavirus Coordinator to: (a.) serve as the legal counsel on matters relating to the coronavirus in Eastern Washington; (b.) oversee prosecution of coronavirus-related cases; and (c.) support public outreach and awareness activities relating to the coronavirus.
Fraudsters devise numerous methods for defrauding people, such as creating websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms. Examples of scams linked to COVID-19 include:
• Testing scams: Scammers are selling fake at-home test kits or going door-to-door performing fake tests for money.
• Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
• Provider scams: Scammers are 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.
• 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 or providing personal identifying and financial information.
• App scams: Scammers are creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of 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.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office again urges the public to report coronavirus-related scams and to take precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams, such as:
• 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.
For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov, the World Health Organization www.who.int, and the Washington Department of Health www.doh.wa.gov websites.