- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2020

The state of Pennsylvania and the federal government have created a task force to combat scams related to the coronavirus pandemic, Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for Pittsburgh, announced Thursday.

It is the latest partnership between local law enforcement and the U.S. government to tackle the rising epidemic of coronavirus fraud.

Similar initiatives have been unveiled in Nevada and Washington.

The task force will bring together a mix of state and local agencies to take consumer complaints about potential scams while prosecutors and investigators work the cases.

The FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspectors, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Social Security Administration inspector general and the Pennsylvania State Police have all been assigned to the task force.

In addition to targeting fraud, the task force will also investigate allegations of price gouging by Pennsylvania retailers.

Across the country, local prosecutors are fielding complaints of businesses selling hand sanitizer, masks, toilet paper and other coronavirus essentials at nearly 20 percent higher than their price before President Trump declared a state of emergency.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said it was “despicable” that retailers and distributors were taking advantage of the pandemic.

Fraudsters have an array of scams targeting the elderly and vulnerable, the two prosecutors said.

Schemes include solicitations for phony charities, people pretending to be doctors falsely claiming a friend or relative is in the hospital for coronavirus and demanding payment, and fake websites pretending to sell in-demand medical supplies.

The prosecutors said they are also seeing a rise in phishing scams where hackers send suspicious emails with addresses that differ slightly from real organizations. For example, a scammer may send a malware-infected email designed to look like a message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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