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.
“Exploiting a global pandemic for financial gain is not only morally reprehensible, it is likely criminal,” said Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “Federal prosecutors in Virginia are working closely with the FBI and the Virginia State Police to identify individuals who are engaging in coronavirus fraud, in its various forms, and preying on vulnerable populations. We are focused on the fraud, not the amount of the loss, and will utilize all available tools and statutes to put bad actors in federal prison.”
“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. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency here in Virginia and around the world. Under Attorney General Barr’s leadership, this partnership with U.S. Attorney Cullen and our federal and state law enforcement agencies will ensure we are doing everything we can to protect Virginians around the Commonwealth from falling victim to these scams. For anyone victimized by a COVID-19 scammer looking to profit off of this pandemic, our office remains steadfastly committed to pursuing justice on your behalf.”
“The FBI is fully committed to address criminal activity during this unprecedented time – especially cybercrime,” said David W. Archery, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division. “We encourage the American public to continue being vigilant, and take steps to protect themselves against those that may exploit the concerns surrounding COVID-19 as a means to steal your money. Consider these tips: 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; and 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.”
“The Virginia State Police remains committed to ensuring the Commonwealth and its citizens safely navigate these uncertain times,” said Col. Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “This task force enables state police to more efficiently and effectively collaborate with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to best protect Virginians from predatory and, potentially criminal, practices.”
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.
In the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke will serve as the COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator. Assistant United States Attorney Michael Baudinet will serve as the COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator for the Western District of Virginia.
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 Commonwealth of Virginia.
Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Martin Culbreath, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Division, joined U.S. Attorneys Cullen and Terwilliger, Special Agent in Charge Archey, and Colonel Settle in making the announcement.
If you believe you have been victim of fraud, or need more information about COVID-19, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/covid-19-fraud
For more information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva
To report fraud directly to the FBI, please visit their website at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx