New Jersey and federal officials are cracking down on crimes such as price gouging, medical supply hoarding and insurance fraud during the COVID-19 crisis.
On March 30, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and New Jersey Acting State Comptroller Kevin D. Walsh announced the creation of a joint federal-task force to investigate and prosecute a range of misconduct stemming from the pandemic.
“An unprecedented public health crisis creates an unprecedented opportunity for scammers and con artists,” Grewal said in a press release. “Now more than ever, we need to work together to protect our community from fraud.”
In New Jersey, there nearly 19,000 people who have tested positive for coronavirus and 376 virus-related deaths as of March 31. In recent weeks, nearly 300 complaints alleging price gouging or other unfair practices related to COVID-19 have been lodged with the state, officials said.
The new task force, which will work in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement agencies, seeks to “ensure that there is a solid front protecting the public from criminals who are attempting to illegally profit from this health crisis,” Carpenito said.
He added: “Whether you’re price gouging on necessities or hawking phony cures or protections, if you’re trying to rip off the public, we will find you and come after you.”
What to Watch For
Besides price gouging, officials said they’re on the lookout for unlawful medical supply hoarding, charity scams, procurement fraud, insurance fraud, phishing schemes and false or misleading investment opportunities.
They want consumers to be wary of store or online ads for products that claim to cure or prevent coronavirus, or other offers and solicitations related to the virus.
Look out for excessive price increases—defined as any price that exceeds 10% of the price the product or service was sold for during the normal course of business—are illegal during a State of Emergency, officials said. Price gouging violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
And they warned to be cautious of those soliciting donations for individuals and groups affected by COVID-19. Some are pretending to be associated with health authorities, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and sending phishing emails to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying information.
The taske force offered these tips on how to avoid scams:
- Independently verifying the identity of any company, charity or individual, be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies or treatment.
- Check online reviews of companies offering COVID-19 products and supplies, research charities soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19.
- Be cautious of investment opportunities and ignore offers for a COVID-19 treatment or cure.
COVID-19-related fraud can be reported by contacting 866-720-5721 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tipsters may remain anonymous.