U.S. Attorney warns of coronavirus scams targeting vulnerable victims

(STL.News) – 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).

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:

  • 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 District of Southern Georgia’s Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator is Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schwedler.