The Department of Justice (DOJ) has prioritized the detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal fraud relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DOJ has made clear that it will not tolerate fraudsters who take advantage of Americans’ fear and exploit the pandemic for their personal financial gain.
On March 22, 2020, DOJ announced its first enforcement action in Austin against operators of a fraudulent website coronavirusmedicalkit.com, which promised to deliver World Health Organization approved COVID-19 vaccine kits for just $4.95 in shipping fees. The civil complaint filed on March 21, 2020, alleges “the operators of the website are engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19.” In response to DOJ’s request, Federal Court issued a temporary restraining order to immediately block public access to the website while an investigation of the website and its operators continue.
Attorney General Barr has directed the DOJ to prioritize detecting fraud schemes arising out of the COVID-19 emergency. Attorney General Barr stated in a memo to the U.S. Attorney’s Offices that “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated. Examples of such conduct and schemes include, but are not limited to:
- Selling fake cures for COVID-19 online;
- 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 information in order to gain and/or lock devices until payment is received;
- Seeking donations for illegitimate and/or non-existent charitable organizations; and
- Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using said information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
To learn more about COVID-19 related fraud, please contact our office.