Authorities warn public against heightened scams for fake coronavirus cures

By KYW Newsradio 1060

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Villanova University student recently tried to send face masks to her family in Hong Kong, but she was stopped by a threatening phone call.

“The bad guys got a hold of this information and pretended to be the Chinese government, and made threats against her and convinced her to wire money to them,” said Bill McSwain, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

She called the feds, who are now handling the investigation, but McSwain wants to warn others of these heightened scams that are taking advantage of people during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“You have to be very careful about any sort of unsolicited communication that you get from somebody by any means,” he said, “whether it’s over the phone, whether it’s by email or whether it’s in-person.”

Fake websites, too, have been promising cures or vaccines for the virus, but such a thing doesn’t exist yet. The U.S. Department of Justice recently shut down a website based in Texas that claimed to sell a COVID-19 cure.

“The type of fraud we are seeing is really only limited by your imaginations,” McSwain said.

Because the virus seems to be the most deadly for seniors, McSwain said they are a prime target for scammers.

“(Seniors) are anxious about the virus and they are more likely to fall for an email or a phone call or an advertisement, or something offering a fake cure or fake vaccine,” he added. “(They can) get roped into doing things where fraudsters can prey upon them, like wiring money or mailing money or sending money to someone for some fake vaccine or fake cure.”

And when it comes to price-gouging, federal authorities are tracking those who hoard supplies and sell them at a higher price, though it’s mostly handled by the state and local prosecutors.

People can report similar schemes at a national hotline: 1-866-720-5721. Each district across the country now has its own dedicated “coronavirus coordinator” so they can focus on tracking the most aggressive cons.