The country is (rightly) laser-focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the president’s daily press briefings with the coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence have been a ratings hit because people want to know what’s going on.
The American public is leaning on our medical superheroes (the medical practitioners and researchers) to lead the way in this “war.”
That said, there are other “supporting campaigns” in this fight. One is the fight against crime related to the outbreak exploiting people’s fears and trust. We have heroes in this part of the battle, too.
If you ever get to chat with any rank-and-file FBI agents, they are far more impressive than the ones you see in the movies or on TV. They care, they know their mission, and they never stop until they find, catch, and prosecute the lowlifes who prey on us.
I had the chance to speak with one of those real-life heroes, Kevin Vorndran, the acting special agent in charge of the Criminal Division of the FBI’s Washington field office.
He patiently schooled me on what was going on in this critical area. On the periphery of the COVID-19 fight, there are people trying to make money and rip people off. Spoiler alert: The FBI is coming for them.
The two major areas of concern are online scams and hoarding/price gouging.
The digital scams fall into two categories. One is the offering of false cures, nonexistent or bogus protective products, or sometimes just advice, all offered at exorbitant prices.
A related variant to this—sometimes on the phone, as well as online—is to pretend to be a legitimate nonprofit organization seeking financial support.
The other form of scam starts similarly, but acts as a more “traditional” phishing attempt. Our appetite for information leads us to click on links or attachments that then allow the bad guys to upload malware that rips you off later.
Good personal hygiene in the cyber realm must be practiced. Watch where you go and what you click on. Never give your personal information to a questionable source.
The physical side of this is the hoarding of medical supplies (masks, gowns, other personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, etc.) and price gouging at horrifically inflated prices to the fearful or to truly needy organizations.
That’s war profiteering, pure and simple, and must be reported wherever it’s found, so the FBI can find, arrest, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those attempting to make money off the pain of others.
Vorndran shared the FBI’s determination to find and stamp out all of those illegal activities, which only add to the trials of these times.
He was quick to point out that the FBI fights this battle in partnership with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, other members of the Justice Department’s COVID-19 task force, as well as state and local law enforcement organizations.
For anyone out there thinking that these are “just people trying to make a little money,” you’re dead wrong. These are parasites within our society who are preying on their fellow citizens at their weakest moments. They must be found, rooted out, and put behind bars.
We, as citizens, have a role in assisting the FBI and other law enforcement officials in doing so.
The following are some resources for learning about the problem and where one can go to report incidents:
FBI public service announcement on COVID-19 scams: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200320.aspx
For online tips of any kind: https://tips.fbi.gov/
Internet Crime Complaint Center for online/cyber tips to the FBI: ic3.gov
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia’s COVID-19 Pandemic Fraud Hotline: 202-252-7022
Eastern District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office press release: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/virginia-us-attorneys-issue-statement-virginia-recommendations-regarding-medical
All who read this are strongly encouraged to utilize these points of contact. Your report can help protect others. We thank our diligent law enforcement personnel for their role in protecting America in this very difficult time and recognize the critical role they play.