Justice Department Launches Task Force to Combat Coronavirus Fraud
Other agencies have implemented similar initiatives as well.
The Justice Department announced on Monday it launched a national task force to combat coronavirus related-crime.
President Trump signed an executive order on Monday that authorizes the Health and Human Services and Justice departments to take action against hoarding and price gouging of critical supplies needed in the coronavirus response. Attorney General William Barr spoke at the White House briefing on Monday night about his department’s ongoing efforts on the matter.
“Today, we convened our first task force meeting—a national task force that will be working on the supply chain issues and specifically on the problem of hoarding and price gouging,” Barr said. “We are designating in each of our 93 United States Attorney’s Offices a lead prosecutor who will be responsible in that district for pursuing these cases.”
Barr noted the department began investigating coronavirus fraud before the executive order was even signed. He issued a directive to U.S. attorneys on March 16 to prioritize investigations of fraudsters, scammers and others seeking to make money off the pandemic, as ABC News reported. On March 20, he asked for the public’s help as well. Then on Sunday, the department filed its first related enforcement action. The case in the Western District of Texas involved a website that was offering a fraudulent coronavirus vaccine.
“I want to stress that we're not talking about consumers or businesses stockpiling supplies for their own operations,” Barr said. He cited toilet paper as an example, which some Americans have been buying in excessive amounts. “We're talking about people hoarding these goods and materials on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market and ultimately deriving windfall profits.”
The Justice Department compiled its coronavirus resources and tip lines on a new website page. Separately, the department announced on Tuesday it’s working with the Federal Trade Commission to provide individuals and businesses working on public health projects with “expeditious guidance about how to ensure their efforts comply with the federal antitrust laws.”
Other federal agencies are working to combat coronavirus-related fraud as well.
Acting Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm said on Monday her office has a new COVID-19 fraud alert online. “This alert has general information about these schemes and how to protect yourself and your community against bad actors,” she said. “With our law enforcement partners, we will be vigilant in our investigation and enforcement against those who exploit this emergency.”
Additionally, the General Services Administration warned contractors of potential scams, as NextGov reported on Tuesday. “GSA has received reports of companies fraudulently claiming to be GSA vendors attempting to exploit legitimate COVID-19 concerns to mislead consumers into paying exorbitant prices for products associated with COVID-19,” GSA officials said in a post. It encouraged agencies and contractors to report any suspected fraudulent activity to the National Customer Service Center at 800-488-3111 or NCSCcustomer.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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