Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur is “encouraging all Marylanders to be aware of individuals attempting to profit from the coronavirus pandemic,” reported Marcia Murphy, a USAO spokeswoman. The Cecil Whig’s recent article entitled “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant” cautions that coronavirus scams are being uncovered around the country.
Scammers have been sending e-mails to people claiming to be from local hospitals offering coronavirus vaccines for a fee. However, no vaccine is currently available for the coronavirus. Some of these criminals are using websites that appear to be legitimate but are actually fake websites that infect the users’ computers with harmful malware or seek personal information that can be later used to commit fraud. Many of these coronavirus scams prey on the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.
Effected individuals need to contact the police if they think someone has targeted them for a scam and to educate themselves on the COVID-19-related scams by checking official government websites, like the CDC.gov for information. Many governmental groups, including at the state and local levels, are also hosting coronavirus information pages. For example, Harris County, Texas has provided a public health page with information about the virus and resources for assistance. http://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2019-Novel-Coronavirus
Individuals need to scrutinize anyone who makes a contact with them about a COVID-19 vaccine—which does not exist—and to report any such interaction to law enforcement.
Late last week, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr sent a memo to all U.S. Attorneys, in which he made the investigation of these coronavirus scams and the individuals perpetrating them a priority. Therefore, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are prepared to investigate these frauds.
The Federal Trade Commission has consumer information about coronavirus scams on its website, including a complaint form to report scammers. Elderly victims can also call the newly launched Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311), if they believe they are victims of coronavirus scams—or any other type of fraud.
In addition to selling bogus cures and infecting computers by using COVID-19-related communications, other examples of coronavirus scams include:
- Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Those asking for donations for fraudulently, illegitimate, or non-existent charitable organizations; and
- Scammers posing as doctors, who ask for patient information for COVID-19 testing and then use that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
Barr asked the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19, by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reference: Cecil Whig (March 23, 2020) “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant”