U.S. Attorney reminds residents to be aware of COVID-19 fraud

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 6:42 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister is reminding Kansans to be wary of COVID-19 fraud.

U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister says he is reminding Kansans to be vigilant against fraudsters using the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage by exploiting consumers and organizations and to cheat disaster relief programs.

In particular, McAllister said he is urging residents to be aware of scams through websites, social media, emails and robocalls peddling face vaccines, tests, treatments and protective equipment. He said criminals fabricate businesses and steal identities to defraud federal relief programs and state unemployment programs are another threat.

“Thieves are trying to use the very real dangers of the pandemic to promote fear and confusion in an effort to fleece victims,” McAllister said. “I urge Kansans to review solicitations carefully. Be skeptical. If it sounds almost too good to be true, that is a red flag.”

“A pandemic is a time when people should come together to pursue the common good, but sadly there are some who instead use it as an opportunity to deceive and thieve,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “From the outset, the Justice Department has acted quickly to detect, investigate, and prosecute wrongdoing relating to this crisis.  Pursuing these criminals and deterring would-be bad actors will remain a priority for the foreseeable future.”

To date, McAllister said the National Center for Disaster Fraud has gotten over 76,000 tips concerning COVID-19 related fraud. He said the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has also gotten over 20,000 tips regarding suspicious websites and postings on social media. He said the tips and reports made directly to the offices of U.S. Attorneys, FBI field offices and other law enforcement agencies, have led to the opening of hundreds of federal investigations.

McAllister said the department has also focused on prosecuting bad actors that have exploited federal relief programs under the CARES Act that are meant to help hard-hit Americans and businesses. He said particularly, the department has charged 65 defendants in 50 separate cases relating to the Paycheck Protection Program. He said the total intended loss to the PPP in those cases is over $227 million. He said the defendants include applications for fabricated businesses named after “Game of Thrones” character and to spend PPP loan proceeds on exotic cars, boats and expensive jewelry.

According to McAllister, the department encourages the public to continue reporting wrongdoings related to the pandemic to the NCDF and to stay vigilant against those looking to exploit the emergency. He said to report scams related to COVID-19, or to report hoarding or price gouging, call the NCDF Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

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