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New OIG and FBI Announcements Highlight Coronavirus Fraud Schemes Targeting Americans

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) issued a Fraud Alert concerning emerging fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Fraud Alert, the government identifies a number of scams being perpetrated against the public and about which we should all remain vigilant. These fraud schemes include the following:

  • The sale of bogus coronavirus test kits to Medicare beneficiaries to obtain recipients’ personal information (including their Medicare beneficiary identification number). This is a form of identity theft, and the government stresses that the sorts of services being offered are “unapproved and illegitimate.” The scammers want access to victims’ personal information in order to fraudulently bill Medicare and Medicaid.

  • The sale of coronavirus supplies to obtain personal information that may be used to perpetrate additional fraud schemes. As with other potential scams, you should be wary of unsolicited requests for your personal information — including your health insurance beneficiary number and Social Security number. You should also be suspicious of unexpected calls or visitors to your home offering coronavirus tests, supplies, or other materials.

  • The use of telemarketing calls, social media, and door-to-door visits to attempt to obtain money or personal information. The OIG also recommends that you be very skeptical of advertisements for coronavirus testing and treatment on Facebook and other social media sites. All coronavirus testing and treatment should be managed and approved by a hospital or a physician or other trusted healthcare professional.

  • Other potential fraud schemes. Although this is not specifically covered in the Fraud Alert, if and when the federal government approves stimulus payments to the American public, there will also certainly be criminals who will seek to defraud recipients of those funds. For example, be mindful that the government will not contact you and ask you for your bank account information or Social Security number in order to award coronavirus stimulus payments. There may also be fake “charities” soliciting “contributions”. If someone calls and asks for bank account information or personal information to confirm eligibility for a government payment, to issue a government payment, or to request a charitable donation, the best course of action is to ask for the caller’s name, title, and call-back number and then contact the local field office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (1 866.720.5721 or disaster@leo.gov) to determine whether the request is legitimate.

Additionally, the FBI has issued a separate public service announcement concerning coronavirus fraud. Citing the same concerns for identity theft and larceny, the FBI has also advised that the public remain vigilant for the following:

  • Fake emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other similar organizations, claiming to provide important information about coronavirus. Often these emails contain links and direct recipients to click on a hyperlink to obtain specific details. However, these links may deploy malware or other viruses to the recipient’s computer in order to steal personal information or compel ransom payments to unlock the devices. It is important to note that legitimate government websites end with “.gov” and not “.com” or “.org” or some other country’s national domain name. The government warns that we should always check for misspellings in web addresses, which may indicate that an address is not legitimate.

  • Phishing emails that ask recipients to verify personal information (and ultimately steal that information). These unsolicited emails will masquerade as well-meaning efforts to help ensure the timely receipt of government stimulus checks, financial relief, airline refunds, and even fake cures, testing kits, and vaccines. As a general rule, the FBI has advised that we should never provide information like usernames, passwords, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, financial data (such as bank account numbers or credit card numbers), or other personal information in response to an unsolicited email or robocall.

  • The sale of counterfeit medical treatments or equipment. These sorts of scams may offer unapproved or counterfeit products such as hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, respirator masks, and gloves. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have information on unapproved and counterfeit products on their respective websites (www.cdc.gov/niosh and www.fda.gov).

© 2020 Jones Walker LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 84


About this Author

Jeffrey Jeter Corporate Lawyer Jones Walker
Special Cousel

Jeffrey D. Jeter is special counsel in the Corporate Practice Group. A former in-house compliance officer and healthcare prosecutor, he represents clients in a broad range of corporate compliance, fraud, and ethics matters. 

With extensive, firsthand business, legal, and prosecutorial experience, Jeffrey brings a unique blend of skills to Jones Walker clients. He provides sophisticated counsel that helps healthcare providers develop and manage anti-fraud and ethics programs, secure and protect private information, and resolve disputes involving allegations of...

William W. Horton Corporate and Healthcare Industry Attorney Jones Walker

Bill Horton is a partner in the Corporate Practice Group and co-chairs the firm’s Healthcare Industry Team. He represents healthcare clients around the country on major transactions, compliance, and governance issues.

Bill maintains a national practice representing healthcare providers and other business enterprises in mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, securities and corporate finance law, regulatory compliance, and corporate governance matters. Prior to joining Jones Walker, Bill was a practice group leader at two other Birmingham-based law firms and served as general counsel of one of the nation’s largest publicly traded healthcare providers. He currently serves as head of the firm's Birmingham office.

Drawing on his substantial experience in private practice and as senior legal officer for a large public company, Bill has been involved in complex corporate finance and acquisition transactions in almost all sectors of the healthcare services industry. His background includes representation of issuers in securities offerings and periodic reporting, representation of borrowers in complex financing transactions, counseling healthcare providers on regulatory compliance, and representation of healthcare enterprises, financial services businesses, and other business clients in corporate governance matters, acquisition and divestiture transactions, joint ventures, venture investments, and other business transactions.

Bill has extensive experience in government and internal investigations. In addition, Bill is a certified mediator for the American Health Lawyers Association Dispute Resolution Service and regularly serves as a hearing officer for medical staff peer review hearings.

A nationally recognized speaker and author on healthcare, corporate and securities law, and professional responsibility topics, Bill also has held leadership positions for several years with the American Bar Association and the American Health Lawyers Association, serving in 2015 to 2016 as chair of the ABA Health Law Section. In 2016, he was honored by the AHLA Fraud and Abuse Practice Group with the Patricia Meador Leadership Award.  

In addition to his private practice, Bill serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and as a clinical associate professor at the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He also serves as a faculty panelist for George Washington University's Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Corporate Compliance Program, a position he has held since the program’s inception in 2005, and as Editor-in-Chief of two major healthcare law publications. He is the founding president of the National Board of Health Lawyers, a specialty certification organization.