U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez has announced the formation of the Middle District of Florida COVID-19 Fraud Task Force in response to the growing threat of fraud presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
The task force is made up of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Its mission is to identify, investigate, and prosecute incidents of fraud related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the effort, the Justice Department and its various components will coordinate information and resources with law enforcement agencies throughout Florida.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to fulfill its critical mission to the public and remains open for business,” stated U.S. Attorney Chapa Lopez in a press release. “During this national crisis, we will prioritize the investigation and prosecution of crimes related to the COVID-19.”
To ensure prompt attention is given to fraud-related crimes, Lopez has assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Perry the post of Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator. Perry will work with law enforcement agencies to increase efforts to protect the public from scammers taking advantage of the general population’s fears during these uncertain times. Examples of these fraud schemes include:
- Businesses and individuals selling fake cures for the coronavirus and engaging in other forms of fraud.
- Phishing emails from entities pretending to be representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Malicious websites and phone apps that appear to provide virus-related information but instead lock and hold devices for ransom until payment is received.
- Fake or non-existent charity organizations fraudulently seeking donations.
- Medical care providers who use information gathered from COVID-19 to fraudulently bill patients for other tests and procedures.
This task force was formed as the FBI, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and offices of attorneys general across the nation have reported an increase in fraud related to COVID-19. As the public remains isolated at home, there is increased fear and a need for up-to-date information on the progress of the pandemic. Fraudsters take advantage of these factors.
To protect yourself from scams, experts recommend going directly to the source of any email, text, phone call, or in-person solicitation for money or an order of goods or services. For example, if you receive an email from the Red Cross asking for donations, go directly to the Red Cross website using a URL or search engine rather than clicking on a link in the email. Slow down the process and be cautious about buying or donating anything without doing research on the company or organization.
It is also good practice to update software on devices regularly by going directly to the software website to check for updates. Pop-up messages that remind you to check for updates or virus protection can be fake, so don’t download anything from a pop up.
Bank fraud is likewise an extremely common offense in Florida. For that reason, state and local law enforcement agencies are especially aggressive when it comes to prosecuting fraud offenses. Anyone accused of fraud involvement should immediately consult an attorney who can analyze the evidence and prepare a good defense.
South Florida Bank Fraud Attorney