The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida has announced a new task force made up of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, whose mission is to identify and prosecute fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan announced the task force on April 13 in response to the growing threat of scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force will review and investigate all credible leads of coronavirus fraud, but will primarily focus on complaints of price gouging and hoarding of crucial medical supplies as well as schemes that seek to exploit vulnerable populations.
Some examples of coronavirus scams mentioned in the press release include:
- Hoarding and price gouging: Health and medical resources designed as “scarce” by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because of their use in the COVID-19 pandemic are subject to hoarding prevention measures. Hoarders and price gougers will face both criminal and civil penalties.
- Supply scams: Scammers creating fake shops, websites, email addresses, and social media accounts claiming to sell medical supplies that are in high demand, but never providing the promised supplies after receiving payment.
- Testing scams: Scammers that go door-to-door to perform fake COVID-19 tests for money or sell at-home testing kits.
- Treatment scams: Scammers offering to sell vaccines, unproven cures, and advice on fake treatments for COVID-19.
- Provider scams: Scammers emailing or calling people, pretending to be medical professionals who have treated an infected relative or friend and demand payment for treatment.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as global health authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) and sending emails that trick recipients into opening a link or attachment that downloads malware which steals the recipient’s credentials and other sensitive information stored in browsers.
- App scams: Scammers creating mobile apps that claim to track the spread of the coronavirus, but insert malware into users’ devices that harvests personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers claiming the services or products of publicly-traded companies can cure or prevent COVID-19, and that their stock value will increase as a result.
- Charity scams: Scammers asking for donations from individuals, groups, or areas affected by the coronavirus but failing to use the funds for such purposes.
- Stimulus check scams: Scammers emailing people claiming personal information, such as Social Security Numbers and bank account numbers, are needed to release a stimulus payment. These are crucial pieces of information for conducting identity theft.
- Other scams: Other examples include scammers pretending to work for the government or banks and offering people assistance for eviction or foreclosure relief, student loan relief, debt relief, unemployment assistance, or direct financial assistance.
Anyone who believes they may be a target of a fraud scheme are asked to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721, or the Southern District of Florida Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator at (305)-961-9450.
South Florida Fraud Attorney