U.S. Attorney warns of coronavirus scams targeting vulnerable victims
Citizens suspecting scams should report to authorities
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Scammers are seeking to exploit the evolving COVID-19 public health crisis by targeting populations most at risk of severe illness, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia is urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes. The NCDF Hotline can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.
“Be on the lookout and report potential scams related to COVID-19,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “Criminals are seeking to take advantage of the current health crisis and are targeting the most vulnerable amongst us. Our office is open for business and committed to working closely with our law enforcement partners to detect, investigate, and prosecute criminal conduct related to COVID-19. Don’t be swayed by fraudsters, and report anything suspicious.”
Some examples of these schemes include:
- Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
- Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand. When consumers attempt to purchase these supplies, the fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
- 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.
- Soliciting donations to fake charities or crowdfunding sites.
- Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
- 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.
In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities. The Southern District of Georgia’s Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator is Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schwedler.
The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.
Here are some tips to help avoid COVID-19 scams:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Do not purchase test kits or items that purport to cure COVID-19 online.
- Do not click on links or reply to texts from unknown sources as these may download malware and viruses to computers or devices.
- 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.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes.
- Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
- 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 (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites. To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.