Date: April 8, 2020
PHOENIX, Ariz. – A joint federal, state, and local task force to combat coronavirus-related fraud was launched today.
The COVID-19 Fraud Task Force brings together a dozen partners from across the state, with the goal of combining resources and information to better investigate and prosecute wrongdoers that seek to profit from the public health crisis. The mission of the Task Force is to streamline the government's response to reports of fraud related to COVID-19 in Arizona. By working together across all levels of government, the Task Force will ensure that cases are investigated promptly and brought to the appropriate prosecuting entity. In the midst of the current crisis, members of the Task Force will work together, share information, and better protect Arizona citizens by ensuring that all scams are investigated and those responsible are held to account.
Assistant United States Attorney Jim Knapp, recently appointed as the United States Attorney's Office COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, and Joseph Sciarrotta, Civil Division Chief for the Attorney General's Office, are leading the Arizona COVID-19 Fraud Task Force. Other members include: Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service Investigation Division, Health and Human Services, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the United States Secret Service, the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Services.
In recent weeks, stories of fraud related to the coronavirus have increased across the nation. In times of uncertainty, consumers are often more vulnerable to scams as they seek answers and a sense of security. Fake texts, emails, and social media posts that might normally be ignored may now be enticing if they offer COVID-19 tests, miracle cures, medical products, or financial windfall.
On April 6, the Federal Trade Commission reported that it had received almost 12,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 in just three months. Well over half of those complaints were fraud-related, with a total loss to consumers of $8.39 million.
There has also experienced a spike in COVID-19-related consumer fraud complaints. Cease-and-desist letters have been sent to local businesses (YiLo Superstore Dispensary and Prepper's Discount) that were offering COVID-19-related products alleged to be in violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. To help keep Arizonans informed of the latest scams and to provide tips to consumers, the Attorney General's Office recently launched a COVID-19 scam information page: https://www.azag.gov/consumer/covid-19.
In light of these reports, we urge all Arizonans to be on alert for scam artists. Be smart and consider the following to protect yourself from COVID-19 fraud:
- Do not respond to texts, emails, or calls requesting your personal information in exchange for a COVID-19 stimulus check. If you receive one of these requests, immediately report it to the hotline. COVID-19 economic impact checks will be delivered based on 2018 or 2019 tax return information, so no action is required for most people.
- 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.
- Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. An organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like "CDC" or "government" in its name.
- Be cautious of purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) from unknown third party vendors. Verify that the company is legitimate before ordering their products or sending money.
- Never click on a link or open an email attachment from an unknown or unverified source. Links and attachments may be embedded with a virus that will infect your computer or mobile device. To better protect yourself against malware, make sure your anti-virus software is operating and up-to-date.
- Do not be convinced by sales pitches for COVID-19 tests that promise to give results in as little as 24 hours. If an effective, quick-results test becomes widely available, you will find out through news sources and government reporting, not a sales pitch.
If you believe you have been a target of a coronavirus-related scam, or know someone else who has been, please report the fraud. Reports can be made to the Task Force at: