DOJ and Florida A.G. Issue Warning Against Covid-19 Scam Artists

MIAMI, FL – South Florida U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan joined the U.S. Attorneys for the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to warn scam artists that they will vigorously pursue anyone trying to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic by cheating Florida consumers, especially the state’s vulnerable elders. Florida’s three top federal prosecutors are now actively collaborating and cooperating with the state’s top prosecutor in a concerted effort to stop scams relating to coronavirus.

The federal and state prosecutors vowed that their offices are committed to remaining vigilant in preventing, pursuing, prosecuting, and punishing individuals and businesses that try to take advantage of the crisis for personal profit. They emphasized the importance of this effort in light of Florida’s large elderly population and reports of everything from bogus COVID-19 “cures” to phishing scams that purport to be official government health websites.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said the risk of scams is particularly high in her district, which is home to a large portion of Florida elders and has seen many of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“As communities across our nation confront the COVID-19 pandemic, know that my office will not waver in its commitment to protecting South Floridians, including our vulnerable seniors. We are focused on COVID-19 scams and will prioritize prosecuting fraudsters who try to capitalize on this health crisis,” Fajardo Orshan said.

“The real threat of this pandemic is bad enough on its own – but we are going to have zero tolerance for the added risk created by lowlife scammers who would prey on Floridians at a time when their focus needs to be on protecting their own health and well-being,” said Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. “We will be vigilant and aggressive in our efforts to find and stop anyone trying to make even one dirty dollar off the backs of anxious Floridians.”

Added United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Maria Chapa Lopez: “Unfortunately, there are those who seek to exploit others in times of crisis, without regard to who they harm or the damage they cause. Those criminals should know that we will combine our resources, at every level, to investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Earlier this week, Florida Attorney General Moody issued a strong consumer alert urging the public to beware of potential coronavirus scams when researching information about COVID-19. 

“Floridians are eager for any meaningful guidance they can find about coronavirus, but they must be careful not to believe everything they hear,” said Attorney General Moody. “Scammers are expert at taking advantage of such emotions, but we cannot and will not let them succeed.” 

The prosecutors’ warning comes on the heels of U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s directive on Monday for all United States Attorneys around the country to place a high priority on stopping scam artists trying to take advantage of the coronavirus situation. In a memo to the U.S. Attorneys, Barr wrote, “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated.”

Some common scams being reported around the nation include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online;
  • Phishing emails sent from entities posing as the World Health Organization (“WHO”) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”); and
  • Malware being inserted onto mobile phones by apps pretending to track the spread of the virus.
     

The officials advised the public to remain vigilant during this time. Citizens should not click on computer links from sources they do not know. They should be cautious when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. They should not allow anyone to rush them into making donations.  And, they should not make donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.  

The three U.S. Attorneys said their offices are working with the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, Fraud Section, and Antitrust Division to coordinate efforts to stop scammers preying on concerned Floridians. Citizens are asked to report potential scams to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. Visit www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl for more information about the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida.

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