U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray of the District of North Carolina urges the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or to the NCDF email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Burr has directed U.S. attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes.
“It is utterly despicable that scammers will try to profit from the COVID-19 national crisis, but fraudsters will stop at nothing to make a buck,” said Murray. “I strongly encourage everyone to be on heightened alert about potential scams related to COVID-19 and to report the fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline or email. Reporting scams will help us investigate and prosecute wrongdoers and track scams so we can warn the public about emerging schemes.”
Some examples of these schemes include the following:
• Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
• Phishing emails from entities posing at the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
• Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
• Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
• Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-10 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
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 of activities.
The Coronavirus fraud coordinator for the Western District of North Carolina is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenny Sugar. Sugar is an experienced prosecutor and currently serves as deputy chief overseeing the district’s White Collar Fraud Unit.
The NCDF 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. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state attorneys general and local authorities.
Education is the best way to avoid being defrauded by scammers. To find out more about Department of Justice resources and information, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Here are some helpful hints to avoid COVID-19 scams:
• Do not purchase items that purport to cure COVID-19. Currently there are no vaccines, pills, drinks, lotions or any other product available on the market that can treat or cure COVID-19.
• Do not click on links or reply to texts from unknown sources, as they may download malware and viruses to computers or devices.
• Instead of clicking on emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO, go directly to their websites, www.cdc.gov and www.who.int, to obtain information.
• When it comes to donations, do not let a scammer rush you into making a donation. Instead, take the time to do extensive research online.
• Do not make a donation in cash, via gift card or a wire transfer and do not provide your banking information or debit card number.
Stay alert, protect yourself from scams and report the fraud.