Georgia resident arrested for scheme to sell illegal products claiming to protect against COVID-19
ATLANTA - Stephen Matthew Shumaker has been charged with mail fraud and knowingly distributing and selling a misbranded pesticidal device.
“Shumaker allegedly used the COVID-19 pandemic to sell a product that does not provide the benefits he advertised,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “We are proud to be part of the Georgia COVID-19 Task Force, which continues to identify and prosecute those who attempt to perpetrate Coronavirus-related fraud schemes.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will remain vigilant in bringing to justice anyone that seeks to defraud individuals during this pandemic,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “This scheme highlights the importance of collaborating with our law enforcement partners to investigate and stop those seeking to take advantage of innocent victims.”
“The defendant is charged with knowingly selling a fraudulent product during the COVID-19 public health emergency in order to make a profit,” said Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “EPA and our partners in law enforcement remain vigilant to protect consumers from this kind of outrageous behavior. To find out how to protect yourself from fraudulent products please see EPA’s compliance advisory, available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-05/documents/cornavirus-compliance-advisory.pdf.”
“Selling a misbranded pesticidal device as a protection for COVID-19 gives unsuspecting buyers a false sense of hope and places them in danger,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “HSI is proud to support the Georgia COVID-19 task force in protecting our citizens from these fraudsters.”
“The Federal Trade Commission appreciates the opportunity to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the COVID-19 Task Force on such an important case,” said Anna Burns, the Commission’s Southeast Regional Director. “Interagency cooperation is essential to ensuring U.S. consumers are protected from fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: Shumaker allegedly engaged in a scheme to defraud by soliciting thousands of Georgia residents with false claims that the Beyond Guardian Air™ air purifier kills every major viral and bacterial infection, including the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in the home. According to the EPA, the device for sale is also a misbranded pesticidal device, another violation of federal law.
Stephen Matthew Shumaker, 43, of Marietta, Georgia, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher C. Bly. Members of the public are reminded that a complaint only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The Department of Justice recommends that Americans take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19:
• 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 from suspicious sources for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, 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 any donation. 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’s website at www.ftc.gov.
• 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.
This case is part of Georgia’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fraud Task Force, aimed at better protecting the citizens of Georgia from criminal fraud arising from the pandemic. Formed by Georgia’s leading state and federal prosecutors, the task force serves to open channels of communication between partner agencies and more rapidly share information about COVID-19 fraud, while ensuring each fraud complaint is reported to the appropriate prosecuting agency. The task force member agencies include the Office of the Governor of Georgia, the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia. Georgia’s three U.S. Attorneys, the Attorney General of Georgia, and the Executive Counsel for the Governor’s Office serve on the task force. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at www.justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations are investigating this case, with valuable assistance from the Federal Trade Commission.
Special Assistant United States Attorney Valerie M. Verduce is prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.