The FBI on Tuesday issued a warning about ghoulish fraudsters seeking to cash in on people’s fears during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“Criminals are actively manipulating the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage,” Calvin A. Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a statement. “We ask all Americans to remain vigilant to avoid falling victim to these schemes.”
“Bad actors,” the feds said, are selling fake test kits and unapproved treatments through telemarketing calls, social media platforms and door-to-door visits.
Some sick scammers promise free care to unsuspecting patients, but its all a ruse to get their mitts on people’s personal and health insurance information — including their dates of birth, Social Security numbers and financial information.
The FBI says to beware of people you don’t know who contact you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you the government or government officials say you have to take a COVID-19 test.
The scammers will likely ask for your health insurance information — including your Medicare or Medicaid number — and other personal information, they said.
Once scammers get a person’s information, they use it to bill federal health care programs and private health insurance plans for tests and procedures the individual did not receive and pocket the proceeds.
People should also be on the lookout for crooks offering to sell a COVID-19 test kit or supplies.
Some are even going door-to-door and performing fake tests for money. Legitimate tests are offered free to patients when administered by a health care professional.
Snake-oil salesmen are also trying to sell miracle cures for the virus, for which there are no proven treatments.
A number of swindlers have already been nabbed for trying to cash in on the crisis.
The feds said earlier this week that they were investigating an international, coronavirus-related scam that conned a California healthcare union into believing it struck a deal for hospitals to buy 39 million N95 face masks, according to a report.
The FBI and prosecutors in Pennsylvania uncovered the scheme while trying to determine whether the personal protective equipment could be seized under the Defense Production Act that President Trump invoked last month, the Los Angeles Times said.
“We believe we disrupted fraud,” Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady told the paper.
The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 160 hospitals and health care systems across the state, was among the organizations that planned to purchase the masks, according to an announcement that the United Health Care Workers West made late last month.
They said Monday that an alleged scammer tried to profit from the coronavirus crisis by offering the federal government millions of face masks that didn’t exist.
Christopher Parris of Atlanta faces a wire fraud charge for trying to sell the Department of Veterans Affairs 125 million masks and other protective gear for more than $750 million — even though he did not actually have the supplies, according to federal prosecutors.
Parris, 39, promised he could get millions of “genuine” masks made by 3M even though he knew fulfilling the orders would be impossible, the feds said. He also tried to make deals for protective gear with state governments by making similar bogus claims to other entities, officials said.
In March, a California conman — who allegedly claimed he created a cure for COVID-19 and tried to drum up investors in his bogus company by saying that NBA great Magic Johnson was on board — was busted in the first federal coronavirus-related criminal case in the nation, according to federal investigators.
Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 53, was arrested by the FBI Wednesday night on a felony charge of attempted wire fraud in connection to the elaborate scam, officials said.