May 22, 2021
PROVIDENCE – Local and state police departments from across Rhode Island and federal law enforcement agencies today participated in a teleconference hosted by the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the United States Postal Inspection Service to discuss strategies to identify and combat COVID-19 fraud.
The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other federal law enforcement agencies report a steady increase in the number and kinds of fraudulent schemes related to COVID-19 being perpetrated. As people become more isolated, particularly the elderly, they become more susceptible to falling victim to these fraudulent schemes.
The FBI reports that in recent weeks, cyber actors have engaged in phishing campaigns against first responders, deployed ransomware at medical facilities, and created fake COVID-19 websites that quietly download malware to victim devices. Based on recent trends, the FBI assesses these same groups will target businesses and individuals working from home via telework software vulnerabilities, education technology platforms, and new Business Email Compromise schemes.
“Fraud related to COVID-19 is particularly disturbing as it exploits a national crisis that threatens the health and safety of every American for personal gain,” said United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman. “Attorney General William Barr has directed all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of crimes related to coronavirus. Working with local, state, and federal law enforcement across the state we are committed to doing just that. There will be no second chances for COVID-19 fraudsters.”
“With the outbreak of COVID-19, scammers are using people’s fears, isolation, and thirst for information to their advantage. They’re targeting anyone they deem as vulnerable to try and steal their money, their personal information, or both,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “We want you to help us stop these fraudsters by reporting suspicious activity, fraud and attempted fraud to www.ic3.gov We also want you to avoid falling prey to these scams. So please don’t click on links within emails from senders you don’t recognize, always independently verify information originates from a legitimate source, never supply your login credentials or financial data in response to an email or phone call, and visit websites by inputting their domains manually. By working together, we can help stop this type of activity.”
“The United States Postal Inspection Service wants to emphasize how important it is to stay connected with our loved ones during these trying times. The United States Postal Service continues to deliver to every door, every day. It is sometimes the only means of communication available to our many, particularly our elder population,” said Sean M. Boyce, Team Leader of the Providence U.S. Postal Inspection Service field office. “Under the right conditions, anyone could fall victim to a scam, but scammers are especially successful at targeting people with certain risk factors, like social isolation, loneliness, limited mobility, and cognitive aging. Scammers are also attracted by the pensions and life savings of retirees. But there are many ways to help older Americans protect the nest eggs they’ve worked so hard to secure – by staying connected with them and staying alert. For everything this generation has done to protect our freedoms and defend this country, we owe it to them to protect and defend them from these scams during this difficult time.”
In addition to investigating and arresting fraudsters, law enforcement across Rhode Island are committed to providing important information to help keep individuals from falling victim to fraudsters and scammers. To support that effort, the United States Attorney’s Office has created a web page with information on how to avoid becoming a victim and how to report cases of suspected fraud. The information is available at www.justice.gov/ri
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Rhode Island
This press release was produced by the Providence Police Department. The views expressed here are the author’s own.