Coronavirus (COVID-19) has devastated communities throughout the country and around the world. As of April 14th, the Virginia Department of Health reports that nearly 6,200 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed—with more expected in the coming weeks. The fast spreading virus is a serious public health threat. Officials are also worried that it may lead to an increase in fraud.
Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the Virginia Coronavirus Anti-Fraud Task Force—a joint state and federal law enforcement operation designed to investigate and prosecute fraud allegations. Here, our Richmond criminal defense attorney explains what we know about the joint task force.
An Overview of the Virginia Coronavirus Anti-Fraud Task Force
In launching the task force, states and federal officials note their concern that unscrupulous individuals and companies may try to exploit the coronavirus outbreak for their own personal benefit and gain. A collaborative effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Virginia State Police Department, and state and federal prosecutors, the task force seeks to take aggressive enforcement action to stop and prosecute alleged fraud schemes. Specifically, the DOJ cites the following four areas of focus for the anti-fraud task force:
- Drug Treatment and Medical Fraud: There are strict rules and regulations regarding the sale of drug treatment and medical therapies. In some cases, an individual selling a phony or unapproved medicine or medical treatment may be violating state or federal law. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant could face civil or criminal charges.
- Phishing (Identity Theft) Scams: Beyond the public health impact, the coronavirus has also taken a serious economic toll on the United States. Many businesses in Central Virginia are, at least temporarily, closed. Many affected people are eligible for stimulus payments or other forms of government support. The IRS is already warning about scammers planning on using a phishing scheme or other types of identity theft. In Virginia, an identity theft charge is generally charged as a class 1 misdemeanor—punishable by up to 12 months in jail.
- Charity & Investment Fraud: The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force is also focused on charity scams and investment fraud scams. An individual caught soliciting funds on false pretenses or improperly raising capital for an investment could face serious fraud charges. While investment fraud is often a civil offense, it can result in criminal charges in some circumstances.
- Price Gouging: As an official State of Emergency has been declared in the Virginia Commonwealth, strict anti-price gouging rules are in effect. Companies have been warned to avoid increasing the price of essential goods by more than 20 percent of their pre-emergency cost to customers. Price gouging allegations are often first addressed with a cease-and-desist letter from state regulators. Though, it could lead to far more serious enforcement action.
Virginia’s COVID-19 task force has the authority to pursue both civil and criminal sanctions against alleged offenders. Unfortunately, in some cases, targeted law enforcement operations such as this one are overly aggressive in pursuing alleged violations. There have been plenty of cases in which people are unfairly or wrongfully charged with crimes. Every defendant is innocent until proven guilty. If you or your loved one was charged with a coronavirus-related fraud in Virginia, contact an experienced defense lawyer right away.
Call Our Richmond, VA Criminal Defense Attorney Today
At Del Rio Law PLLC, our top-rated Virginia criminal defense lawyer has the skills, experience, and knowledge to handle the full range of fraud cases. If you or your loved one was arrested on fraud charges, we can help. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we are set up for remote operations. For a free initial phone consultation, please contact us today. From our law office in Glen Allen, we serve communities throughout Central Virginia, including in Richmond, Ashland, and Mechanicsville.