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Feds appoint 'fraud coordinator' to investigate CV-19 schemes
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Feds appoint 'fraud coordinator' to investigate CV-19 schemes

  • The Evo A. DeConcini U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe Evo A. DeConcini U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Tucson.

A federal prosecutor has been appointed to serve as a "fraud coordinator," investigating scams related to the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona announced Friday. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Knapp, known for pursuing white-collar crimes, will lead investigations based around COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 17,000 people in the U.S., including at least 78 people in Arizona.  

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey said that because his office has "already started receiving reports" about people trying to use the COVID-19 crisis to "defraud others," he appointed Knapp to serve as a legal counsel for the federal district on "matters relating to the virus," including leading investigations based on reports of fraud related to virus. 

"Our office has already started receiving reports about individuals who are trying to use this crisis as an opportunity to prey upon others," said Bailey. "This kind of behavior during a national public health emergency is egregious and despicable. We will identify and prosecute anyone who uses the COVID-19 crisis to defraud others." 

Knapp is a long-serving prosecutor and the office's White Collar Section chief, said Esther Winne, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Some current scams linked to COVID-19 include people selling fake at-home tests kits, or going door-to-door-performing fake tests for money, people selling fake cures online, as well as people creating websites or newsletters while that claim to sell high-demand medical supplies. The office may also look into people fraudulently seeking donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19, Winne said. 

This may include internet-based scams, including mobile apps that appear to track the spread of COVID-19, but which actually installs "malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information," phishing emails, investment scams, and schemes in which people attempt pretend to be doctors or hospitals and demand payment. 

"If you or someone you know believe you’ve been the target or victim of a fraud scheme related to the COVID-19 crisis please contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721).  Scam reports can also be made online by emailing NCDF at disaster@leo.gov or through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) by visiting www.IC3.gov," said Winne. 

"As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, the critical mission of the U.S. Department of Justice must and will continue.  In a memo this week, Attorney General Barr directed all U.S. Attorneys to remain vigilant in detecting, deterring, and prosecuting criminal activity, especially crimes of fraud related to the crisis," she wrote. 

She also quoted Bailey, who said in an email sent out to office staff, "As federal prosecutors we’ve each assumed a mantle, sworn an oath, and accepted a duty – proudly – to protect others and our community from crime. We will fulfill that duty, notwithstanding hurdles or roadblocks." 

"The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to do its part and fulfill its mission during this crisis," Winne said. "In the meantime, we urge you to educate yourselves about these schemes and report any fraud to the authorities."

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