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U.S. Attorney’s Office investigates coronavirus-related fraud in Wisconsin

As coronavirus cases in Wisconsin have increased, so have attempts to profit on the public’s fears of the virus. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District is investigating a number of coronavirus-related scams in Wisconsin.

Matthew Krueger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, said the Department of Justice began receiving tips about coronavirus-related fraud to its national hotline about two weeks ago.

Common scams include callers posing as Medicare representatives to obtain personal information, malware sent through COVID-19 websites and emails, phishing emails, sites selling fake tests and protective gear, and donation solicitations for fake charities — ruses that are familiar to the department’s elder fraud task force.

Prevent Coronavirus Fraud
• Hang up on robocalls
• Don’t click on links from unknown sources
• Know who’s selling the product
• Resist pressure to act quickly if unsure
• Report fraud to 866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov

“These are some of the same scams,” Krueger said. “Criminals are repackaging them for coronavirus.”

Since the stimulus bill became law last week, Krueger said, scammers have been pretending to be government agencies and emailing people about the coronavirus stimulus checks promised to most Americans and relief for small businesses. He advised attorneys to be aware of the scams and what the law provides.

“People are going to go through a lot of financial hardship, and the stimulus legislation has a variety of relief provisions,” Krueger said. “There is going to be a need for people to study this legislation, so they can steer clients away from these scams and counsel people towards these best practices.”

Krueger said it’s hard to say how prevalent such fraud is in Wisconsin, but he said his staff employees are investigating a number of tips locally that came from the national hotline.

The Eastern District hasn’t brought any charges yet, but other offices throughout the country have. The DOJ charged someone in California last week for trying to solicit investments in a company that claimed it developed a coronavirus cure. In Austin, Texas, the DOJ filed an enforcement action on March 21 to shut down a website claiming to have World Health Organization vaccine kits.

“The mail and wire fraud statutes are very flexible to be applied to traditional fraud schemes,” Krueger said. “There are criminal statutes for computer fraud.”

On the civil side, Krueger said the DOJ can take anti-fraud injunction action while a criminal investigation is ongoing.

Though the coronavirus has caused some changes to operations at the Eastern District office, the justice system continues to work to protect the public, Krueger said.

“The justice system is still operating, and we’re doing everything we can to prioritize public safety,” Krueger said.

To report COVID-19 fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

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