600-plus fraud reports so far during pandemic; authorities set up statewide task force
By David Pendered
With more than 600 complaints of price gouging and other crimes reported in Georgia, all related to the pandemic, federal and state authorities announced Tuesday the formation of a statewide task force to fight criminal fraud.
Most of the 600-plus complaints about price gouging or scams involve food, toilet paper, water, and hand sanitizer, according to a statement released Tuesday by the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Atlanta. The complaints were filed with the Georgia attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division.
“Our office has received hundreds of complaints regarding scams, price gouging and other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we won’t tolerate those who are taking advantage of consumers and interfering with our frontline workers’ response to the crisis,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in the statement.
“This partnership between the State of Georgia and our U.S. Attorneys will enable us to work together to investigate and, as appropriate, prosecute those who violate our laws,” Carr said. “We will leave no stone unturned as we protect all Georgians.”
The task force has two immediate goals: To enhance communication among law enforcement agencies, and to ensure that fraud complaints are directed to the appropriate agency.
Gov. Brian Kemp said in the statement the task force will help protect Georgians.
“My office is honored to work with this task force in our state’s fight against the spread of COVID-19. As a team, we are committed to putting Georgians first to ensure their safety and well-being as we address this public health state of emergency,” Kemp said.
U.S. District Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said Georgians can rest assured that criminals will be apprehended and punished.
“Citizens can rest assured that we will bring every asset to bear against fraudsters and those who use this crisis as an opportunity to commit fraud,” Pak said. “Also, we encourage anyone who believes they are the victim of a scam, or may have been contacted by someone stating they represent a government agency, to contact this task force immediately.”
Task force agencies include:
- Office of the Georgia Governor;
- Office of the Attorney General of Georgia;
- S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia;
- S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia;
- S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
The task force members include the state’s three federal prosecutors, the state attorney general, and the governor’s executive counsel.
A similar task force was set up in Virginia. It is comprised of the federal prosecutors for the state’s two districts; the FBI and Virginia State Police, according to a March 20 statement.
Kentucky also has as federal COVID-19 fraud task force, according to a March 25 report by courier-journal.com.
The task force advises Georgia residents to be on watch for, and to report, the following crimes:
- “Treatment scams: Scammers are selling fake vaccines, medicines, and cures for COVID-19.
- “Supply scams: Scammers are claiming they have in-demand products, like cleaning and household supplies, and medical supplies, but when an order is placed, the scammer takes the money and never delivers the order.
- “Charity scams: Scammers are fraudulently soliciting donations for non-existent charities to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Scammers often use names that are similar to the names of real charities.
- “Phishing scams: Scammers, posing as national and global health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending fake emails and texts to trick the recipient into sharing personal information like account numbers, Social Security numbers, and login IDs and passwords.
- “App scams: Scammers are creating COVID-19 related apps that contain malware designed to steal the user’s personal information.
- “Provider scams: Scammers pretending to be doctors and hospitals demand payment for COVID-19 treatment allegedly provided to a friend or family member of the victim.
- “Investment scams: To promote the sale of stock in certain companies—particularly small companies, about which there is little publicly available information—scammers are making false and misleading claims that those companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19.”
Note to readers:
Complaints can be filed with the Georgia Consumer Protection Division by calling tollfree: 800-869-1123, or on this page of the division’s website;
Complaints can be filed with federal authorities at the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s tollfree number, 1-866-720-5721, or sending an email to the NCDF at email@example.com: