In response to the increased threat of fraud presented by the coronavirus, federal and state law enforcement leaders from Kentucky announced Wednesday the formation of the Kentucky Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.
The task force is a joint federal and state partnership coordinated by Assistant United States Attorneys from both the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, in partnership with experienced fraud investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office.
The mission of the task force is to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic impacting Kentuckians.
The task force will review and investigate 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, and schemes that endanger health and safety.
Some examples of 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: When sellers and/or retailers sell or rent an item for a price “which is grossly in excess of the price prior to the declaration” per KRS 367.374. Goods and services included in this prohibition include consumer food items; goods or services used for emergency cleanup; emergency supplies; medical supplies; home heating oil; building materials; housing; transportation, freight, and storage services; and gasoline or other motor fuels.
• Other scams include fraudsters claiming to work for the government or banks/credit cards and offering assistance for student loan relief, foreclosure or eviction relief, unemployment assistance, debt relief, and direct financial assistance, like government checks.