State AG, U.S. Attorneys unite to fight COVID-19 scammers

Published 4:37 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

Amid the growing COVID-19 crisis, three U.S. Attorney – Richard Moore of the Southern District, Louis Franklin of the Middle District and Jay Town of the Northern District – are partnering with Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to “uncover, investigate, prosecute and dismantle any frauds, price gouging or scarce material hoarding related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” according to a press release from Moore’s office.

“It is critical that our citizens be aware that various frauds are being attempted during this coronavirus pandemic,” Moore said. “We will vigorously prosecute fraud victimizing the citizens of Alabama, but we prefer that our citizens first exercise prudence and help us avoid becoming unnecessary victims. The U.S. Attorneys and our Alabama Attorney General are dedicated to a coordinated prosecution of those who take advantage of our citizens during this difficult time.”

According to the informal coalition, a number of scams have surfaced during the current pandemic, including scammers offering to sell fake cures, vaccines and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.

In terms of hoarding and price-gouging scams, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has designated certain health and medical resources necessary to respond to the pandemic, such as respirator masks, ventilators and protective equipment, as “scarce,” meaning that such items are subject to the hoarding prevention measures that trigger both civil and criminal penalties.

Where supply scams are concerned, criminals are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts and email addresses claiming to sell high-demand medical supplies, such as surgical masks – when consumers attempt to purchase supplies, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.

A host of other scams are surfacing as well, including provider scams, where scammers contact people by phone or email claiming to be doctors or hospital representatives that have treated a friend or family member and demand payment, and charity scams, where fraudsters are soliciting donations for non-existent entities or those with which they have no actual affiliation.

Criminals are also launching investment scams, in which they offer online promotions on various platforms claiming that the advertised products or services are from publicly-traded companies and can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19; the scammers allege that an investment will increase in value, often styling their pitches as “research reports” or “target price” predictions and more to lure people in.

Additionally, there are fraudsters out there contacting people claiming to have their stimulus money, which can be delivered if the victim provides certain personal information, such as bank account and Social Security numbers, which is then used as a tool for identity theft.

“I am proud to join with my federal partners as a force multiplier in identifying and

holding accountable those criminals who prey upon Alabamians during times of crisis,”

said Marshall.  “Whether through scams targeting a victim’s confidential information or price gouging the public, those who seek to exploit the vulnerable during this time of emergency are on our radar.”

Marshall and the rest of the contingent urged Alabamians who believe they may have been a target or victim of the one these crimes to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or the Consumer Interest Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s office at 800-392-5658.