LOUISVILLE, Ky. – United States Attorney Russell Coleman has appointed a federal prosecutor to fight back, and assist state and local prosecutors and law enforcement partners against fraud in the Western District of Kentucky relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
United States Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys nationwide to remain vigilant in detecting, investigating and prosecuting criminal activity associated with the crisis.
“Whether from thieves who seek to use this challenging time to exploit our neighbors, violent criminals, or the drug cartels who profit from their poison; we will protect the people of this Commonwealth,” said U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman. “I could not be prouder to partner with Attorney General Cameron and his team of public servants to do so. Kentucky is well-served when federal and state prosecutors collaborate as one.”
As part of the COVID-19 strategy, U.S. Attorney Coleman has appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser, a veteran white collar crime prosecutor, to serve as the district’s COVID-19 Coordinator. The coordinator serves as legal counsel for the district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, prosecute or assist in the prosecution of Coronavirus cases, and conduct public outreach and awareness related to the virus.
As our nation continues to face the spread of COVID-19, the critical mission of the U.S. Department of Justice must and will continue as we work together to safeguard our justice system and thus the safety and security of the citizens of Kentucky.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is working hand-in-hand with the Kentucky Office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron to aggressively identify and prosecute against scams being perpetrated online and in-person by thieves seeking to exploit the evolving public health crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that takes support from every level of government,” said Cameron. I appreciate United States Attorney Coleman’s proactive steps to fight illegal schemes, and we look forward to collaborating with our federal colleagues to protect Kentuckians.”
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.
U.S. Attorney Coleman and Attorney General Cameron urge everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:
• Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
• Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use "cdc.com" or "cdc.org" instead of "cdc.gov."
• Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
• 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.
• Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
• Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
• Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
• Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID- 19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like "CDC" or "government" in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
• Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
• Be cautious of "investment opportunities" tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
• For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
We urge you: don’t fall victim to these frauds. We have set up a dedicated toll free Hotline and dedicated email addresses for the public to report suspected COVID-19 fraud. If you believe you have been a target or victim of these frauds, please report them at:
Kentuckians wishing to report scams and fraud can contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
To file a price gouging complaint, visit ag.ky.gov/pricegouging or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257