U.S. Attorney’s Office joins national COVID-19 Task Force

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, under the guidance of Attorney General William Barr, has committed an attorney to serve on the national COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.

The COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, led by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, District of New Jersey, with assistance as needed from the Antitrust Division’s Criminal Program, will address COVID-19-related market manipulation, hoarding, and price gouging. The task force will develop effective enforcement measures, best practices, work closely with HHS as they designate particular items and equipment, and coordinate nationwide investigation and prosecution of these illicit activities.

“With the medical community on the front lines to battle this silent but deadly enemy, we must do everything we can to protect our medical providers, and ensure that they have reasonable access to all of the supplies they need to battle this pandemic. Anyone who is considering profiting off of those needs will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Powell.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Cogar is assigned from the Northern District of West Virginia to this national task force.

Powell is also encouraging residents and medical professionals to be vigilant in reporting any COVID-19 related fraud activities. 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

To report fraud, please call the National Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721or go to  https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

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