Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general, warns about “bad actors” preying on people’s fears over COVID-19 and perpetuating fraud schemes.
The Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Monday issued a warning about fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus.
Scammers are offering COVID-19 tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information. However, the services are unapproved and illegitimate.
The OIG said fraudsters are targeting beneficiaries via telemarketing calls, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits. The personal information collected can be used to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit medical identity theft. If Medicare or Medicaid denies the claim for an unapproved test, the beneficiary could be responsible for the cost.
“We will not tolerate these scams in which fraudsters try to enrich themselves by preying on unsuspecting patients to steal personal and medical identity information. With our law enforcement partners, we will be vigilant in our investigation and enforcement against those who exploit this emergency,” Grimm said in an emailed message on Monday.
In addition to test scams, the United States Attorneys for the Western and Eastern Districts of Virginia, the FBI, and the Virginia State Police have formed a task force to prevent fraud after receiving reports of treatment, supply, provider, charity, and phishing scams.
The task force notes that scammers have created fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. These fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
Meanwhile, the DOJ this weekend filed its first enforcement action against COVID-19 fraud. The DOJ claim that the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” engaged in a wire fraud scheme that profited from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. Information published on the website claimed to offer consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, which consumers would pay by entering their credit card information on the website. There are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine. In response to the department’s request, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order requiring that the registrar of the fraudulent website immediately take action to block public access to it.
If you suspect COVID-19 fraud, contact National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (866) 720-5721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.