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The strictures placed on society by the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a whole new breed of confidence artists, hucksters, and thieves trying to take advantage of the confusion caused by this disaster.
To combat the fraud, the United States Department of Justice National Center for Disaster Fraud has opened the NCDF hotline to receive reports of fraud and abuse specifically related to the novel Coronavirus.
United States Attorney General William Barr in a May 20 media release “urged the public to report fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by contacting the NCDF hotline at 866-720-5721 or by emailing the NCDF at [email protected]”
The media release from Barr through the DOJ indicates the NCDF can receive and enter fraud complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.
Information provided by the DOJ website indicates that Attorney General Barr has also directed all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus-related fraud schemes. A Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator is being established for each state to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness.
Some examples of reportable fraud related to the COVID pandemic include:
• Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
• Social media scams and telephone calls fraudulently seeking donations for illegitimate or nonexistent charitable organizations requesting you to enter your bank account information to provide COVID-19 health treatment for underprivileged individuals. Do not click on any email link in these emails or texts. It could be an attempt to infect your computer with malicious software.
• Phishing emails – Attempts by bad actors posing as representatives of the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to obtain bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, and other personally identifiable information.
• Be aware of unsolicited requests for your Medicare information, even if they are accompanied by offers of “free” COVID-19 tests or supplies, or an email or call by someone claiming to be a representative from Medicare or the Department of Health and Human Services. Scammers may use your Medicare information to submit false medical claims for unrelated, unnecessary, or fictitious services.
• Be on the lookout for an increase in cryptocurrency fraud schemes including but not limited to blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams. Cryptocurrency is a digital currency for online use.
• Be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and emails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. Remember the IRS’s first form of communication is by postal mail – not by phone. The caller may claim that you received an overpayment of the stimulus money and demanding a “refund” of the difference. Consumers may be threatened with adverse consequences such as fines, forfeiture, or arrest if they refuse to refund the money. Callers may demand payments by requiring you to buy iTunes, Google Play, or Steam cards, or by money transmission such as Western Union or MoneyGram.
• Attempts to steal Economic Stimulus Checks issued for COVID-19 relief over the phone, through postal mail, or via email.
• People trying to steal bank information by posing as government agents trying to verify if have received the COVID-19 stimulus check or by making last minute changes to how you deposit the physical stimulus check. If you have opted to receive a physical stimulus check.
If you have opted to receive a physical stimulus check rather than direct deposit to your account, it is incumbent on you to verify if you are actually getting the physical official U.S. Treasury stimulus check by looking for the safeguards built into the document to prevent photocopying or other kinds of illegal duplication.
These safeguards include:
Official Treasury seal: Look for the new official Treasury seal. Also check to see if there is any red ink bleeding from the seal which can happen if you apply moisture to the seal in an attempt to try and duplicate it.
Watermark: All U.S. Treasury checks are printed on watermarked paper. The watermark reads “U.S. TREASURY” and can be seen from both the front and back of the check when held up to a light. The watermark is very faint and cannot be reproduced by a copier. Any check not having the watermark should be suspected as being counterfeit or copied.
Ultraviolet Overprinting: As of October 2013, a new ultraviolet pattern was introduced into the check stock, invisible to the naked eye, consisting of four lines of “FMS” (Financial Management Service) bracketed by the FMS Seal on the left and the United States Seal (eagle) on the right. This pattern can usually be found under the payee information and dollar amount area. The FMS pattern and seals can be detected under a black light. If the amount box is shaved or altered in any way, a space will be created in the ultraviolet area. When exposed to black light, the ink used in the pattern and the seal will glow. This fluorescent quality cannot be photocopied.
You can also verify if you have been issued the stimulus check by going online to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service Treasury Check Verification Application (TCVA) at: https://tcva.fiscal.treasury.gov.
Law enforcement has seen fraud schemes using smartphone apps or websites that claim to be a government office associated with CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security) programs. These fake sites are requesting PII, including banking information to deposit stimulus payments.
Contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, this has created an opportunity for fraudulent “contact tracers” to send out text messages to try and get the victim to enter PII that can be used to loot bank accounts. Legitimate contact tracers use investigative techniques to follow a COVID-19 infected individual back to the original point of where they were infected.
Find out more about these scams and how to protect yourself by visiting fbi.gov/coronavirus and the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/coronavirus.
Criminals will likely continue to use new methods to exploit COVID-19 worldwide. Stay alert and stay informed about common fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Information in this article was collected from a number of sources including:
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