Heather Goe, BS, DBA
Editing provided by Joanne Byron, BS, LPN, CCA, CHA, CHBS, CHCO, CIFHA, CMDP, OHCC, ICDCT-CM/PCS
Health care has always been a target for fraud and abuse. Criminals are taking advantage of these uncertain times to strike an already burdened health care industry during this global COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made COVID-19 Fraud a pertinent area of focus. Since March 2020, the DOJ has begun taking legal action against such fraudsters. This article outlines just a few of these initial cases.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its first enforcement action against COVID-19 fraud on March 22, 2020. The federal court began their response with a temporary restraining order against the website offering a fraudulent Coronavirus vaccine.
The operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were reportedly, in the civil complaint and in accompanying court papers, engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The website offered information and access to the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. The website directed consumers to pay by entering their credit card information. More details about this case can be found by clicking here.
On April 17, 2020, the DOJ announced another injunction, this time by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, halting the sale of a fraudulent and potentially dangerous COVID-19 treatment product. Genesis II Church of Health and Healing and its principals Mark Grenon, Joseph Grenon, and Johnathan Grenon were alleged to have been selling and distributing a product called Miracle Mineral Solution or MMS. Reportedly, MMS was sold on Genesis’s website as a cure, treatment, and/or for the prevention of Coronavirus, which includes COVID-19, as well as many other diseases including Alzheimer’s, Autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Multiple Sclerosis, among other things. Further information on this case can be found by clicking here.
The DOJ attests to protecting consumers from illegal and potentially harmful products offered to treat COVID-19 and continues to work closely alongside the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to quickly shut down those selling illegal products during this pandemic.
The DOJ offers some precautionary measures for Americans to follow to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19 such as:
- Independently verifying the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Checking the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19.
- Being aware of how scammers will often employ addresses that differ slightly from those belonging to the entities’ they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Simply ignoring offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. If a vaccine becomes available, you most likely will not hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
COVID-19 Fraud however is not constrained to just false products and unsubstantiated treatments. On May 22, 2020, the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs released news regarding a software engineer, based in Issaquah, Washington, charged with COVID-19 Relief Fraud by allegedly seeking more than $1.5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Loans.
The charge further details multiple filings of fraudulent bank loan applications, submissions of false documents, and an overall intentional attempt to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Click here for more on this case.
Keeping yourself and your organization current regarding compliance and regulatory issues is paramount and we believe being aware of the work our governmental officials are doing to help un-muddy the waters is, too. Auditors and compliance professionals understand the importance of following guidelines and have been primarily tasked with implementing policies and procedures for their organizations to ensure compliance. COVID-19, to say the least, has surely put these skills to the test. Consider enhancing your skills through online training in Compliance and Internal Forensic Healthcare Auditing.