Buyers Beware: Scammers on the Move During COVID-19 Pandemic

Law enforcement warn of fraudsters and offer ways to avoid them.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the FBI has issued a warning to health-care professionals to beware of fraudsters trying to sell them fake COVID-19 equipment. Other scams across the nation revolving around the virus are cropping up as well.

“Be aware that criminals are attempting to exploit COVID-19 worldwide through a variety of scams,” the FBI wrote on its site.

The FBI has received reports of individuals and businesses selling fake COVID-19 cures online and phishing emails that pose as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Malicious websites and apps that appear to share virus-related information are instead accessing and then locking consumers’ devices until payments are received. Donations are also being sought for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.

The FBI urges vigilance as consumers do business online or donate to coronavirus-related abuses. Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device. Also, research charities and crowdfunding sites that solicit donations in connection with COVID-19 before donating to them.

In New Jersey, according to a press release from Gov. Phil Murphy, scams have popped up so rapidly that a newly formed federal-state COVID-19 task force will investigate and prosecute misconduct that includes the unlawful hoarding of medical supplies, price gouging, charity scams, procurement fraud, insurance fraud, phishing schemes, and false and misleading investment opportunities.

The news release also asked consumers to beware of so-called investment opportunities tied to COVID-19, especially those that are based on claims from small companies’ products or services that can help stop the virus.

“An unprecedented public health crisis creates an unprecedented opportunity for scammers and con artists,” New Jersey Attorney General Grewal said in the press release. “Now more than ever, we need to work together to protect our community from fraud. It’s aimed, he noted, to protect New Jersey taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse.”

As for crime rates, officials in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, noticed a decrease in recent weeks in overall crimes compared with the same period a year earlier. Auto thefts in New York City, however, increased by 50 percent.

In Chicago, violent and property crimes decreased slightly compared to previous years. And Dallas also reported that violent and property crimes are less.

Los Angeles and Philadelphia police chiefs have instructed officers not to make arrests for minor offenses in an effort to limit contacts as a way to prevent spreading the virus.

"We are encouraging citing and releasing individuals for low-level, nonviolent offenses," Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, told the Wall Street Journal, "and that is so we limit everybody's exposure."