Government Push-Back on COVID-19 Scams

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Close-up photo of a woman using a smart phone app to type in the amount of cryptocurrency she wants to sell.

Like worms emerging after a rainstorm, a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic quickly draws a wide array of unscrupulous opportunists to prey on public anxiety. (Nothing like a disgusting visual to drive a point home.) The U.S. Secret Service has identified some of the most common COVID-19 fraud schemes and is urging the public to be aware of and avoid falling for them. (Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.) Here are some things you should avoid:

Email phishing scams seek personal or credit card information that scammers exploit for financial and/or identity theft. In other cases, opening an attachment infects the computer with malware that captures similar information or holds data captive for ransom. The COVID-19 phishing twist is to make it appear that email comes from a medical or health organization, with an attachment containing important Coronavirus information. Instead of opening such email, consumers should visit reputable health sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another common scam is soliciting donations on behalf of a fake charity (or pretending to be a real charity) helping people with COVID-19 infections. Consumers should thoroughly research any charity to ensure it is legitimate and then go directly to the charity’s site to donate.

Many fraudsters are demanding huge upfront deposits or exorbitant prices for medical and disinfectant supplies. In many cases the supplies have no value in treating or preventing COVID-19. Scammers are setting up phony websites to promote their products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media to try to lure consumers.

The federal government is stepping up efforts to stop these pernicious crimes. The Federal Trade Commission has created a task force targeting COVID-19 fraud, and the U.S. Justice Department is intensifying investigation and prosecution “to make sure that bad actors do not take advantage of emergency response efforts, healthcare providers, or the American people during this crucial time,” according to Attorney General William Barr.

The government is also working to eradicate harmful COVID-19 misinformation online and through social channels. The Department of Homeland Security is working with law enforcement and the intelligence community to stem the tide, while the World Health Organization has posted a “myth busters” page to debunk false information. (Stay alert, be suspicious of anything that appears too good to be true, and don’t forget to wash your hands often. Together we can beat this virus and the fraudsters who want to profit from the pandemic.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an ABC News Article, “Secret Service warns of scams, disinformation campaigns around spread of coronavirus” published Mar. 10, 2020.

The Secret Service issued guidance urging the public to use vigilance during any major news story, warning that criminals can use the “fear” to their advantage and prey on the most vulnerable.

They called the coronavirus outbreak “a prime opportunity for enterprising criminals because it plays on one of the basic human conditions … fear.”

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.