Kusserow on Compliance: FBI reports rise in schemes involving the COVID-19 pandemic

The FBI reported that fraudsters are taking advantage of COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, personal information, or both. Fraudsters see a vulnerable population scared and looking for help to protect themselves and their families. They are increasingly resourceful and view the current crisis as an opportunity to advance their schemes. Today, many are looking for medical attention, equipment, and supplies. As a result, a new fraud threat involves fake cures or treatments for the virus, many of which can be extremely dangerous or even fatal.

People who are at home and out of work are vulnerable to work-from-home scams where up-front money is requested—such requests are not something a legitimate employer does. One of the most prevalent schemes is where criminals make contacts pretending to be from the government to require mandatory COVID 19 testing in order to gain personal information, money, or to hack into a computer. Other scams involve acquiring personal information under the pretense of determining eligibility to receive government benefits. In some cases, fraudsters are even going door-to-door to try to convince individuals that they need to provide money for COVID-19 testing, financial relief, or medical equipment. The FBI has teams of agents working on these cases and have arrested and filed charges against many engaging in these crimes. They FBI advises everyone to be on the lookout for the following “red flags” involved in email contacts:

  • Unexplained urgency
  • Last minute changes in wire instructions or recipient account information
  • Last minute changes in established communication platforms or email account addresses
  • Communications only in email and refusal to communicate via phone or video
  • Requests for advanced payment of services when not previously required
  • Requests from employees to change direct deposit information

The following tips have been offered to help protect against these schemes:

  1. Be very wary of any attachments or links.
  2. Be suspicious of anyone offering you something that’s “too good to be true”
  3. Beware of contacts purporting to be a government agency requiring taking a COVID-19 test
  4. Beware of individuals offering to sell you a COVID-19 test kit or supplies
  5. Beware of medical professionals requesting payment for treating a friend or relative
  6. Be skeptical of last-minute changes in wiring instructions or recipient account information
  7. Verify addresses of emails from those you know; it may be just one letter difference
  8. Never contact a vendor solicitation via the number provided in the email
  9. Ensure URL in emails is exactly as seen in the past for the business it claims to be from
  10. Be alert to hyperlinks that may contain misspellings of the actual domain name
  11. Accept a medical treatment or virus test only from known doctor or pharmacist
  12. Use extreme caution in online communication
  13. Seek out legitimate sources of information and not accept what is sent without request

For more information, the HHS OIG issued a COVID-19 Fraud Alert Video to warn about several health care fraud scams.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2020 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.