Scammers thrive in times of uncertainty and economic hardship and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Recently, officials warned criminals are using the fear of the coronavirus to defraud Texans of money via texts, emails, phone calls, and face-to-face interactions.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick joined forces with Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to warn residents in the Houston area of scammers, Click2Houston reported. Ryan urged people to be skeptical of any COVID-19 related solicitations.
The article quoted Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner who alerted residents to a scam in which imposters pretend to be City Works employees who claim water lines have been poisoned with the coronavirus to gain access to homes. There is no evidence of COVID-19 contamination of water lines.
Patrick said prosecutors on the Gulf Coast have a long track record of investigating and prosecuting people for “disaster fraud.” The area has been hit by a series of devastating hurricanes in recent years.
Investigators said the scammers prey on the insecurities of people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil during the pandemic. Texas has seen one of the largest surges of cases in the nation over the last month.
The scams include the following:
- People who try to sell miracle cures, tests for COVID-19, or even vaccines. Researchers are still working on an effective treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. No miracle cure is available.
- People who call email or text claiming to be from Medicare or social security and ask for important information such as social insurance numbers. Officials point out the government already has this information and will not ask for it. Don’t give out information such as your social security number, your Medicare number, or your date of birth. The federal government will only contact people via the mail.
- Scammers requesting a fee to process stimulus payments associated with pandemic relief. There is no fee associated with stimulus payments.
- Scammers demanding large sums of money for personal protective equipment.
- Phishing schemes where a text or an email appears to come from an official source like the IRS and includes a “notice” that is a virus-linked attachment. You may be hacked if you click these links.
As well as scams, the U.S. Department of Justice has arrested alleged white-collar criminals who are accused of fraudulently obtaining funds under the government’s Paycheck Protection Program loans.
In May, Samuel Yates of Maud, Texas was arrested by the feds in the U.S. Eastern District of Texas and accused of claiming millions of dollars in loans from funds intended for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Investigators claimed in documents filed in the U.S. District Court that Yates used a random name generator he found online to compile a list of fictitious employees for his company to qualify for a low-interest loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.
He is accused of making applications to two lenders. An initial application sought $5 million in loans, according to investigators who the media reported searched Yates’ trash. The feds accuse Yates of claiming that he owned a business employing more than 400 people along with a monthly payroll of $2 million.
U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown of the Eastern District of Texas said many people seek to take advantage of emergency funds whenever the government hands out large sums of money.
The federal courts deal with many white-collar crimes. They often carry long sentences. Our Dallas-based criminal defense lawyers have a long track record of representing people who are charged with these complicated offenses in federal court. White-collar crimes often entail fraud, and typically result in multi-count indictments. Please call us at (214) 720-9552.