This week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges in the first federal case involving COVID-19 fraud. According to the DOJ’s civil complaint, the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were engaged in a wire fraud scheme to profit from the widespread fear surrounding COVID-19 by offering consumers access to purported World Health Organization vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. The fraudulent website then asked consumers to provide their credit card information. However, according to the DOJ, there are no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the World Health Organization is not distributing any such vaccine to the public. As a result of this case and the proliferation of schemes around the United States, the Attorney General’s office and U.S. Attorneys around the country announced their commitment to targeting scams that exploit this national emergency.
At the state level, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody joined the U.S. Attorneys for the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts of Florida to warn that their offices will work together to stop scams related to the coronavirus, particularly those targeting the elderly and reports of phony “cures” to the disease. To that end, Attorney General Moody’s office released a consumer alert warning Floridians to even exercise caution in conducting COVID-19 due diligence. According to the alert, a malicious website displaying a live map of COVID-19 cases in the United States contains malware that can steal sensitive user data. Officials suspect that the website is being spread around through infected email attachments and through phony websites.
In considering how the above trends will particularly affect Florida businesses, Gunster anticipates that the well-publicized and unprecedented employee layoffs and furloughs in our local tourism communities will open the door to new waves of fraud, seeking to exploit those without work during this crisis. These schemes could include business email compromise fraud ploys in which (1) phony email addresses and websites claim to provide access to government unemployment benefits; (2) fraudsters pose as recruiters looking to hire temporary employees affected by layoffs in the hospitality, restaurant, and travel industries; and (3) fraudsters impersonate legitimate U.S. companies using copycat websites, email addresses, and social media to solicit job applications. Once obtained, the victims’ personal identity information can be used in furtherance of various fraud schemes and sold on the dark web.
The pervasiveness and variety of schemes makes detecting, reporting, and protecting yourself, your employees, and your business against COVID-19 fraud a complex and uncertain task. We remain available to assist our clients with these issues.
If you have any questions, please contact Gunster attorney Jonathan Osborne.
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This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken that might be influenced by this publication.
Gunster, Florida’s law firm for business, provides full-service legal counsel to leading organizations and individuals from its 12 offices statewide. Established in 1925, the firm has expanded, diversified and evolved, but always with a singular focus: Florida and its clients’ stake in it. A magnet for business-savvy attorneys who embrace collaboration for the greatest advantage of clients, Gunster’s growth has not been at the expense of personalized service but because of it. The firm serves clients from its offices in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach, Stuart, Tallahassee, Tampa, Vero Beach, and its headquarters in West Palm Beach. With more than 240 attorneys and consultants, and over 240 committed support staff, Gunster is ranked among the National Law Journal’s list of the 500 largest law firms and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Diverse Law Firms by Law360. More information about its practice areas, offices and insider’s view newsletters is available at www.gunster.com.