(STL.News) – U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister is reminding Kansans to be vigilant against fraudsters who are using the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit American consumers and organizations and to cheat disaster relief programs.
In particular, McAllister urges Kansans to be aware of scams perpetrated through websites, social media, emails and robocalls peddling fake COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments and protective equipment. Criminals who fabricate businesses and steal identities in order to defraud federal relief programs and state unemployment programs are another threat.
“Thieves are trying to use the very real dangers of the pandemic to promote fear and confusion in an effort to fleece victims,” McAllister said. “I urge Kansans to review solicitations carefully. Be skeptical. If it sounds almost too good to be true, that is a red flag.”
“A pandemic is a time when people should come together to pursue the common good, but sadly there are some who instead use it as an opportunity to deceive and thieve,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “From the outset, the Justice Department has acted quickly to detect, investigate, and prosecute wrongdoing relating to this crisis. Pursuing these criminals and deterring would-be bad actors will remain a priority for the foreseeable future.”
To date, the National Center for Disaster Fraud has received more than 76,000 tips concerning COVID-19-related wrongdoing. Similarly, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has also received more than 20,000 tips regarding suspicious websites and media postings. These tips, as well as reports made directly to the offices of U.S. Attorneys, FBI field offices, and other law enforcement agencies, have led to federal law enforcement opening hundreds of investigations.
The department charged its first COVID-19-related fraud case on March 25. Since then, the department has filed criminal charges in 33 cases across the country involving scam vaccines, treatments, or testing or price gouging in the sale of scarce medical supplies. Additionally, the department has initiated civil actions in 11 cases to enjoin fraudulent coronavirus schemes targeting consumers, including cases against defendants marketing ozone gas, silver-ion solution, and bleach-based solution as treatments.
The department has also focused on prosecuting bad actors who have exploited federal relief programs enacted on March 27 under the CARES Act that are intended to assist hard-hit Americans and businesses. In particular, the department has charged 65 defendants in 50 separate cases to date that relate to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The total intended loss to the PPP in those cases is more than $227 million. The defendants in these cases include those brazen enough to submit PPP loan applications for fabricated businesses named after “Game of Thrones” characters and to spend PPP loan proceeds on exotic cars, boats, and expensive jewelry.