Coronavirus scams have Justice Department asking for your help

See something? Say something. The DOJ wants to quickly shut down "these most despicable of scammers."

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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The US Justice Department is asking the public to report any suspected fraud schemes related to the new coronavirus so officials can snuff out scams more quickly, US Attorney General William Barr said Friday. 

If you see a suspected scam, call the hotline for the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 1-866-720-5721 or email the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov, the department said. The NCDF is a part of the Justice Department.

The Justice Department took its first action in the effort over the weekend, ordering the closure of a website that promised consumer access to a nonexistent World Health Organization vaccine kit for $4.95, payable by credit card, the Justice Department said in a statement Sunday. A temporary restraining order directed the website's registrar to immediately block public access to the site, the Justice Department said.

"We will use every resource at the government's disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement.

The coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19, has has rapidly spread, causing a pandemic and sparking crises worldwide. Cities, states and countries have mandated quarantines. Health care systems are scrambling. Entire industries have shut down. And the resulting fear and confusion have given hackers and scammers an opportunity to exploit, leading to new spins on some of the same old malware, phishing and snake oil schemes. 

The Justice Department listed examples of possible fraud schemes, including: 

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19, whether online or off.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or nonexistent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.    

When people report suspected frauds to the NCDF, the center can enter complaints into a centralized system accessible by all US attorneys, as well as the DOJ's litigating and law enforcement officials, so they can investigate and prosecute them. The NCDF also coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state attorneys general and local authorities.

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