NASHVILLE – U.S. Attorney Don Cochran and FBI Special Agent in Charge M.A. Myers today urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) and to the recent tornado destruction, by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes. The NCDF Hotline 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.
“Communities in middle Tennessee have experienced a double-punch with the recent devastating tornadoes and now the escalation of the Coronavirus,” said Cochran. “Sadly, these unfortunate scenarios present opportunities for low-life fraudsters to prey upon those who are struggling to get through a single day with hopes of returning to a normal life. We will not allow our current circumstances to become an open door for those who would take advantage of a temporary plight of humanity. Forty-two dedicated federal prosecutors in our office, along with our law enforcement partners, are on duty and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to bring anyone to justice who would attempt to exploit those who find themselves in extreme need during one of the most vulnerable times in our nation’s history.”
Some examples of these schemes include:
· Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
· Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
· Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus and disaster-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-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
Myers is reminding the American public to continue exercising smart cyber hygiene in this uncertain time. Be aware that cyber criminals may exploit concerns surrounding COVID-19 to perpetuate scams designed to steal your money. By remembering these four tips, you can protect yourself and help stop this criminal activity: (1) do not open attachments or click links within emails from senders you don’t recognize; (2) always verify the information being shared originates from a legitimate source; (3) do not provide your logins, financial data or other personal information in response to an email; and (4) visit websites by manually inputting their domains to your browser. If you believe you are the victim of an internet scam or want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
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 activities. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Toussaint is the Coronavirus and Disaster Fraud Coordinator for middle Tennessee.
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.
To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.