In response to the increased threat of fraud presented by the coronavirus, federal and Virginia state law enforcement leaders announced today the formation of the Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.
The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force is a joint federal and state partnership that will be led by Assistant United States Attorneys from both the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, in partnership with experienced fraud investigators from the FBI and the Virginia State Police. The mission of the task force is to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Virginia.
The eastern district covers the entire Peninsula.
The task force will review and investigate all credible leads of fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of the loss amount, focusing on schemes to exploit vulnerable populations, including the elderly, and concerned citizens. Federal prosecutors from the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia will meet and confer with their agency counterparts from the FBI and Virginia State Police on a regular basis to prioritize cases and surge resources where needed.
Some examples of coronavirus and COVID-19 scams include:
- Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
- Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
- Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
- App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
- Price Gouging scams: Individuals and businesses may sell essential goods, like hand sanitizer, for significantly higher prices than in a non-emergency setting. It is legally considered price gouging when the price of one of these products increases more than 20 percent its price one week prior to an emergency declaration from the state.
“Fraudsters are already attempting to use the coronavirus pandemic to scam vulnerable victims,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
As of Friday, James City County has 19 positive cases, Williamsburg has four, York County has three and Newport News has one, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website.
Virginia now has 114 positive cases of the coronavirus with 20 hospitalizations, according to Friday’s update.
Here are a few tips from David W. Archery, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division:
- Do not open attachments or click on links from senders you do not recognize;
- Verify the information being shared actually originates from a legitimate source;
- Do not share your logins, banking information or other personal information in response to an email;
- Only visit websites that you have manually typed their domains into your browser.
- If you believe you are a victim of an internet scam or want to report suspicious activity, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.”
If you believe you have been victim of fraud, or need more information about COVID-19, click here.
For more information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, click here.