CORONAVIRUS

Federal prosecutor warns residents of fraud scams related to coronavirus

Appoints assistant U.S. attorney to coordinate investigations and prosecute

U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. speaks at a news conference in February 2018 at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. O
U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. speaks at a news conference in February 2018 at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. On Monday, he warned people about COVID-19 fraud schemes and asked residents to report such activities. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. on Monday asked people to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19.

His office, and others in the United States, have been directed to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of these “unscrupulous criminals.”

“There are people out there who will try and take advantage of COVID-19 for selfish financial benefit,” Deegan said in a statement. “I am asking everyone in our communities to stay vigilant and report suspected fraud.

“We also all need to care for the most vulnerable citizens in our society and do our best to prevent them from becoming victims of unscrupulous criminals.”

Deegan said the public can report scams to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-(866) 720-5721 or by email to disaster@leo.gov.

Deegan appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Vavricek to coordinate fraud cases in the Northern District office, which covers the northern half of Iowa. He also will manage coronavirus outreach and awareness activities.

SCAM EXAMPLES

Some examples of schemes the public should be aware of include:

• Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online.

• Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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• Malicious websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.

• People seeking donations for illegitimate or non-existent charities.

• Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud will enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. attorneys, the U.S. Department of Justice and law enforcement to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.

The center also coordinates complaints with 16 federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state attorneys general and local authorities.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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