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COVID-19 Fraud Hotline: 1-888-C19-WDPA

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, your health and safety are the Department of Justice’s top priority.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania is on-duty to protect the citizens of western Pennsylvania from fraudsters and criminals who seek to exploit this crisis for their profit. 

U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro have formed the joint Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force to bring together federal and state resources to investigate, shut down, and punish scams related to COVID-19 in western Pennsylvania.  For more information, see their joint op-ed, some recent reporting on their actions (CNN) (NY Times) and some of U.S. Attorney Brady’s recent interviews (KDKA Radio) (Allegheny Conference) (@WDPANews).

If you see any frauds related to COVID-19 (examples below) being attempted or if you are victimized by these frauds, please report them to the Task Force:

FBI at:  https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx  or 412-432-4000,

COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, Senior Litigation Counsel Shaun Sweeney at USAPAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov or 1-888-C19-WDPA, 

Price gouging to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General at pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov, or

Outside of western Pennsylvania to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov.

For continuing information on the COVID-19 virus and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html and https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
 

Issues, Examples and Tips:

Hoarding or Price Gouging Certain Critical Medical Supplies

Scammers are endangering people infected with COVID-19 and the medical professionals treating them by hoarding critical medical supplies that are necessary to treat and fight this pandemic.  These scammers are squeezing our medical supply chains, then trying to sell those critical medical supplies for exorbitant profits.  As of March 26, 2020, it is a federal crime to hoard or price gouge certain critical medical supplies, including:

  • Respirators (including N-95), facemasks, and other PPE (personal protective equipment), including medical gowns, coveralls, Tyvek suits, face shields, and gloves.

  • Air-purifying respirators, filters and cartridges

  • Ventilators, Portable Ventilators, machines that can be used as ventilators, ventilator tubing, and ventilator accessories

  • Chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine HCl

  • Sterilization services for certain medical devices and certain sterilizers

  • Disinfecting devices and other sanitizing and disinfecting products suitable for use in a clinical setting
     

Please report all suspected instances of hoarding and price gouging of such medical supplies to our Fraud Task Force Hotline at 1-888-C19-WDPA or USAPAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov. Outside of western Pennsylvania, report to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (as listed above).

Examples of Coronavirus Scams to Avoid

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus. They’re setting up websites to sell bogus products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information. The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your neighborhood. They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments.  Some examples of COVID-19 scams include:

  • Treatment scams:  Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.

  • Supply scams:  Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming 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. 

  • 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 also 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. 

  • Infection threats: Scammers are threatening to infect entire families with COVID-19 unless they are paid thousands of dollars in Bitcoin.
     

Tips to Avoid Scams

U.S. Attorney Brady 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.

  • 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.
     

If anyone believes they have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud scheme, please contact the western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force (as listed above), the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (as listed above), or your state or local authorities.

Updated May 15, 2020

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