As Americans grapple with the uncertainties and disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, fraudsters are already trying to take advantage of concerned Americans.
The 94 United States Attorneys located throughout the country have each appointed a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator. Working with law enforcement officials and the Department of Justice, the coordinators will ensure that people using to the coronavirus pandemic as a method of exploiting vulnerable Americans will be swiftly prosecuted.
In New Orleans, one of the hardest hit cities with coronavirus, U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser said,
“Along with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we continue to stand ready to enforce the laws of the United States and to address the public safety needs of our community. Unfortunately, during times of crisis, criminals continue their efforts to victimize the public. However, we are ready for them. The public should know that the Department of Justice, joined by its state and local law enforcement partners, will vigorously pursue all those who violate federal law and prey upon our citizens.”
Examples of coronavirus fraud schemes include:
- Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for coronavirus online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
- Scammers are selling fake at-home test kits or going door-to-door performing fake tests for money.
- Fraudsters are creating fake online shops and websites that claim to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as hand sanitizer and surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies. Worse, they often gain access to your credit card information.
- 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-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
- Phony apps that map coronavirus cases in your neighborhood or city.
- Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
- Medical providers obtaining patient information for Coronavirus testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
We are most concerned about the last category, medical providers obtaining your Medicaid or Medicare billing information and using that for medically unnecessary services or billing for services not even provided.
We have already heard of one elderly Medicare recipient who was promised “free COVID-19 testing.” All she had to do was provide her Medicare number, name and address. It was a scam. There was no test. Agencies are also reporting other similar scams such as phony $79 air conditioner duct cleanings "to make sure that the air you breathe is free of bacteria," and diabetic monitors that come with a free at-home test for coronavirus.
Many elderly people and other at-risk people are very concerned about the current pandemic. They know that the mortality rates for people in their 70’s and 80’s and those with underlying health conditions are quite high. They also know that there is a considerable wait to be tested.
Unfortunately, the federal government didn’t have enough tests ready. Although the FDA and private vendors are working around the clock to meet the demand, not everyone who wants a test can get one. Praying off the fears of elderly patients by offering phony free coronavirus testing is illegal and sikening.
How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus Scams
- Do not provide your Medicaid or Medicare number, insurance information, credit card information over the phone. Legitimate healthcare companies don’t contact prospective patients this way.
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding coronavirus.
- Check the websites and email addresses of anyone offering information, products, or services related to coronavirus. Fraudsters will often obtain a domain name that is very close to the organization they are impersonating. For example, a fraudster might use an email address of cdc.co instead of the real Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is cdc.gov.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails, flyers or phone calls offering supplies, or treatment for coronavirus.
- If someone offers to let you participate in the clinical trial of a new vaccine or treatment, it’s probably a scam. Pharmaceutical companies don’t contact people this way. If you want to learn if a vaccine or treatment is real, check with your doctor or go to cdc.gov.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments or download apps from unknown or unverified sources. (Merely opening an attachment could introduce malware into your phone or computer.)
- Check online reviews of any company offering coronavirus supplies.
- Don’t give money to any business, charity, or individual that demands payment in cash, wire transfers or gift cards.
- Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to coronavirus especially those based on claims that a company’s products or services can help stop the virus.
Feds Prosecute Texas Fraudsters
We are working seven days a week to protect Americans from scammers. So is the FBI and Justice Department. On Sunday, March 22nd, the Justice Department obtained an emergency restraining order against a company in Austin, Texas that was operating an allegedly fraudulent website called coronavirusmedicalkit.com.
The site offered consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) coronavirus vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, which consumers would pay by entering their credit card information on the website. Currently there is no vaccine for coronavirus and WHO isn’t sending out vaccines to consumers by mail.
The FBI released a statement saying,
“At a time when we face such unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 crisis, Americans are understandably desperate to find solutions to keep their families safe and healthy. Fraudsters who seek to profit from their fear and uncertainty, by selling bogus vaccines or cures, not only steal limited resources from our communities, they pose an even greater danger by spreading misinformation and creating confusion. During this difficult time, protecting our communities from these reprehensible fraud schemes will remain one of the FBI’s highest priorities."
If you have information about coronavirus scams, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at [hidden email]. That is the central number for reporting all pandemic related scams.
If you are a medical provider or have inside information about other Medicare or Medicaid fraud and are interested in collecting a whistleblower reward, call one of our operators toll-free at 888.742.7248. You can also contact us online. All contacts are entirely confidential.