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Marylanders urged to be alert for scams exploiting the coronavirus crisis

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CENTREVILLE — Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur is encouraging all Marylanders to be aware of individuals attempting to profit from the coronavirus pandemic. Coronavirus scams are being perpetrated around the country, including in Maryland.

Recently, scammers sent emails to people in Maryland, purporting to be from a local hospital and offering coronavirus vaccines for a fee. In a possibly related scam, Anne Arundel Medical Center reported individuals representing themselves as AAMC have been calling people in our area and asking them for their credit card information, saying they have a cure for COVID-19. In fact, no vaccine is currently available for the coronavirus.

Other fraudsters are offering fake cures for the virus or posing as public health officials. Still other scams use websites that appear to be legitimate, but are actually fake websites that infect the users’ computers with harmful malware or seek personal information that can be later used to commit fraud, such as the fake Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracking site, which looked very similar to the real site.

Centreville Police recently learned of another coronavirus telephone scam making the rounds in this area. “If your power company calls and advises that due to this pandemic you are being reimbursed for your extra usage of electricity (due to being home more). This is a scam,” the police department warned.

Scammers will mention a variation of the above information and then attempt to obtain your personal information, supposedly to reimburse you.

“While power companies are doing what they can to soften the blow for the communities they serve, they will not be calling to request this information from you,” Centreville Police said.

In your conversations with vulnerable adults and other people in your lives please consider bringing this up as a reminder, Centreville Police advised.

Many of these scams target the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

Hur said, “Fraudsters who are preying on citizens during this unprecedented public health crisis are reprehensible. My office and the entire law enforcement community are committed to bringing fraudsters who prey upon our most vulnerable citizens to justice. We will continue our outreach efforts to make the public aware of scams and frauds. I urge citizens to remain vigilant and to be skeptical of any telephone calls, e-mails, or websites that request personal information or banking information, while promising money or services that seem too good to be true.”

U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr sent a memo to all U.S. Attorneys making the investigation of these scams and the individuals perpetrating them a priority. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are open and ready to investigate these frauds.

Barr urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by emailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

This past week, Barr directed all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus-related fraud schemes. In a follow-up memorandum issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen further directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the coronavirus, direct the prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness.

The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.

To learn more about Department of Justice resources and information, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Don’t be taken in by a scam. There are resources available to learn the facts about the coronavirus and how to protect yourself from scammers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has guidelines on how to keep from becoming ill, and other information about the disease, on its website, https://cdc.gov/coronavirus.

The Federal Trade Commission also has consumer information about coronavirus scams on its website, www.ftc.gov, including a complaint form to report scammers. Elderly victims may also call the new Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311), if they believe they are victims of a coronavirus scam — or any other type of fraud.

Editor Angela Price contributed to this report.

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