The Unscrupulous Are Preying on People’s Fears of COVID-19
Seniors at Particular Risk of falling Victim to COVID-19 related Internet Scams
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler, Ulster County District Attorney David J. Clegg and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, that their offices will be coordinating with each other, as well as with other law enforcement officials, to protect the public from COVID-19 related internet scams. District Attorney Hoovler and District Attorney Clegg stated that their offices are committed to a zero-tolerance policy towards any scammers/fraudsters leveraging COVID-19 and will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
On April 15, 2020, District Attorney Hoovler issued a warning to Orange County’s citizens to be on the lookout for scams including:
• Offers of Checks. Texts, emails, or phone calls may offer to provide you with a check, as part of the COVID-19 response, but, in reality, the scammer is seeking some form of personal information from you, or to infect your computer with malware.
• Offers for Vaccinations or Home Test Kits. At present, nothing has been shown to be effective in treating or preventing COVID-19, and any offer of such a product is fraudulent.
• “Robocalls.” Scammers are using electronic calling to offer fraudulent products such as insurance or various work-at-home schemes.
• Emails. Claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Emails stating that they are from those organizations may be attempts to get you to provide personal information to the scammer or to infect your computer.
• Donations. Many scammers are setting themselves up as charitable organizations, seeking donations for those who work against the virus.
• Offers of Products. Some scammers are offering reduced-rate products, which are never delivered.
District Attorney Hoovler, District Attorney Clegg and Comptroller DiNapoli announced that additional COVID-19 related crimes that they will be investigating include:
• Advance fee schemes – where a victim pre-pays partially or in full on-line for a service/good related to COVID-19 and receives little or nothing in return.
• Business email compromise schemes – where a legitimate email address gets spoofed (using a COVID-19 hook) and succeeds in what may be legitimate payments by the victim being re-directed to a fraudster’s bank account.
• COVID-19 testing schemes – where victims (especially the elderly) are contacted via email, by phone, or in person and are told that the government requires them to take a COVID-19 test. As part of that contact by the fraudster, victims provide confidential medical information (including his/her Medicare or Medicaid number) which is then used to defraud government or private health care programs (health care fraud schemes).
• COVID-19 treatment schemes – fraudsters are leveraging this plague to sell fake cures, treatments, and vaccines by contacting the victims via online advertisements, phone, and email. As part of the scam, besides selling a fake product, the fraudster often successfully obtains the victims’ financial information, Medicare or Medicaid number, or private health insurance information.
• Federal relief scams – where fraudsters are attempting to steal personal/financial information, leveraging that the federal government will be sending out payments as part of the economic relief package.
• Phishing attempts leveraging Emergency COVID-19 information – where fraudsters attempt to use victims’ fears about COVID-19 as an opportunity to phish (i.e. attempt to get an individual to click on a link to install malware, steal passwords, get access to sensitive information). The email or text appears to be from an official organization and either asks for donations or asks the victim to take other action.
“COVID-19 created an unprecedented disruption to our lives which has caused many, particularly seniors, to use the internet in ways they are not accustomed to,” said Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler. “We must be more cautious than ever about unsolicited offers related to the pandemic. As always, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As always, if you believe you are the victim of a crime contact law enforcement. I look forward to working with District Attorney Clegg, Comptroller DiNapoli, and all our law enforcement partners, to stop scammers looking to prey on those who are at their most vulnerable.”
“We believe there is a growing need to combat the fraudsters and scammers that take advantage of the fears and vulnerabilities created by the pandemic,” said District Attorney Clegg. “We can more effectively combat these fraudsters and scammers by working in conjunction with the Office of the New York State Comptroller and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.”
“Taking advantage of a pandemic to commit fraud is reprehensible,” said State Comptroller DiNapoli. “District Attorney Clegg and District Attorney Hoovler are leaders in educating the public and sending a strong message that this deplorable behavior will not be tolerated. I am proud to partner with them and with law enforcement across the state to protect New Yorkers and hold those who would commit these crimes accountable.”
New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money across the State by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at email@example.com, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.. As always, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you believe you are the victim of a crime contact law enforcement.