Western District of Arkansas officials are asking anyone who suspects fraudulent activity related to COVID-19 to report the suspected offenses to federal authorities.
Acting Western District Attorney Clay Fowlkes is following the United States Department of Justice directive to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of these offenses during the outbreak.
"We intend to vigorously investigate and prosecute those criminals who would seek to take advantage of the uncertainty created by this pandemic to advance their criminal activity," Fowlkes said in a Monday news release.
These types of crimes include:
• Businesses and people selling fake cures for the virus online and engaging in forms of fraud.
• Phishing emails posing as the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Medical providers using patient information obtained from COVID-19 testing to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
• Websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information to lock access to devices until they receive payment.
• Fraudulently seeking donations for non-existent or illegitimate charitable organizations.
Each U.S. attorney has been asked to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as legal counsel for his or her federal judicial district. They will direct the district on matters related to the coronavirus, direct prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes and conduct awareness and outreach activities, the release states.
"The media is aware of it, so now we’d like people to call in if they see anything suspicious," Western District Public Information Officer Charlie Robbins said.
The Western District as of Tuesday had not received any reports of fraudulent activity related to COVID-19, Robbins said. The Eastern District of Oklahoma didn’t have any prosecutions that day, according to Eastern District Court Clerk Pat Keaney.
Robbins said the cases will be handled federally because the crimes involve methods such as wire fraud and interstate commerce.
"Right now, we’re just taking calls to let everybody know that they will be prosecuted," Robbins said.
Those who would like to make a report of fraudulent activity related to COVID-19 may call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or email the center at email@example.com.