Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

DOJ says it will prioritize the prosecution of coronavirus crimes

Attorney General William P. Barr urged the American public to report all cases of COVID-19 scams and fraud.

How cyber criminals are trying to exploit coronavirus fears

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The US Department of Justice said today it plans to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes.

US Attorney General William P. Barr urged the American public to report any cases of fraud and scams related to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The DOJ said Attorney General Barr has already instructed US Attorneys to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator in their local districts to handle reports, investigations, and go after crooks abusing the weary public.

Some examples of coronavirus-related scams that the DOJ is aware include the likes of:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.     

Per the DOJ, reports can be made by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

FBI says it saw a rise in COVID-19 scams

Barr's plea for the American public to report coronavirus-related scams comes after the FBI published a security bulletin earlier today, warning the American public about an increase in online fraud campaigns leveraging the coronavirus pandemic.

The FBI said it observed spam campaigns posing as the CDC (US Center for Disease Control and Prevention), spam campaigns asking for charitable donations and financial relief, spam campaigns peddling fake cures and vaccines, and campaigns selling fake testing kits.

The uptick in cybercriminals targeting the general public has been obvious since last week. According to a previous ZDNet report, there are now thousands of COVID-19 scam and malware sites being created daily, and the vast majority of today's internet spam is playing on the coronavirus theme. Besides regular day-to-day malware operations, even state-sponsored hacking crews are using the coronavirus lure in some operations.

This is the second warning the DOJ has put out this month. Two weeks ago, the DOJ warned companies of its intentions to prosecute companies that broke antitrust rules by fixing prices or rigging bids in an attempt to extort the US government and health organizations for maximum profits in the midst of a dangerous public health crisis. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued similar alerts at the time.