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Federal gov warns public about coronavirus scam artists

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The federal government is warning citizens that crooked merchants are using the spread of novel coronavirus as an opportunity to take advantage of the elderly by selling fake virus testing kits to Medicare recipients.

This issue was addressed Monday, followed by an alert from the Health and Human Services inspector general's office saying it has seen marketing schemes targeting the elderly to sell them "Senior Care Packages" with hand sanitizer or a vaccine, which doesn't exist. Some of these sellers flat-out lie in their advertisements, claiming that President Trump has ordered all senior-citizens to undergo testing. 

President Trump did not issue any such order, but he did sign an order directing a crackdown on large-scale hoarding. His administration is hoping to stave off a shortage of critical goods and supplies caused by hoarding. 

As the government takes measures to cut off hoarding, it's also warning citizens, especially the elderly, to be on alert to scams that may come in the form of telemarketing calls, robocalls, social media posts, emails and even door-to-door visits. 

Christian Schrank, Assistant Inspector General for investigators, explained that many of these schemes targeting Medicaid recipients are for the purpose of getting a person's private information and then using it to bill federal and state health programs. 

“It’s a straight-up ruse to get your Medicare number or your Social Security number under the guise of having a test kit or a sanitary kit sent to you,” Schrank said. Often the caller will hang up as soon as that number is provided.

The Associated Press notes that the following schemes have been reported to authorities:

— In Florida, seniors have been contacted by fraudsters claiming that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have mandated they get tested and that their Medicare number is required.

— A scheme in the Midwest offers a “Senior Care Package” that includes hand sanitizer. “As we know, it’s very difficult for beneficiaries to get out to the store,” Schrank said. “At this time when seniors are searching for answers, these individuals are preying on their desire to speak with somebody.”

— Several online operations are offering coronavirus vaccines, when none has been developed and approved. At the White House press conference Monday, Trump said federal authorities had already shut down a website selling “a totally fake vaccine.” Schrank said, “The first time you hear about a vaccine, it’s not going to be through an email or a telemarketing call.”

Authorities suggest that senior citizens who receive calls from scam artists simply hang up the phone. 

For more information contact the Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or send them an email at disaster@leo.gov.

To find out more about the Department of Justice, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus. 


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