FBI Warns of Potential Charity Fraud Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nationwide, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have received reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19. They are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both.


Many Americans want to help during the COVID-19 pandemic by contributing to charities, but the FBI is warning that scammers also want to help—they want to help themselves to your money.

Nationwide, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have received reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.

They are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both.

Don’t let them.

Charity scams often occur when a scammer poses as a real charity or uses the name of a real charity to get money from you.

Be careful about giving money to any charity calling you for donations and be wary if you get a call about a donation pledge that you don’t remember making.

Remember, you can’t always believe your caller ID. Scammers often spoof organizations’ phone numbers. It’s always best to research the organization telephone number yourself and call direct to verify.

Do not be pressured or rushed to donate. That is a strong indicator of a scam.

Similarly, if you receive an email purporting to be from a charitable organization, do not click on links. These could be attempts to download viruses onto your computer or cell phone. Watch out for charity names which sound very similar to well-known charities, as well as email addresses that are not consistent with the charity soliciting donations. Instead, search for the charity using an internet search engine to ensure you’re connected to the actual charitable organization.

The best way to protect yourself is by doing your research.

Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of a charity fraud:

  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether you’re donating through charities, social media, or crowdfunding websites.
  • Look for online reviews of charity organizations or use information from your state’s regulator of charities or from websites like the Better Business Bureau, give.org, charitynavigator.org, or charitywatch.org to check on the legitimacy of charitable organizations.
  • Before donating, ask how much of the donation will go toward the program or cause you want to support. Every organization has administrative costs, and it’s important to understand those structures.
  • Never pay by gift card or wire transfer. Credit cards are safer.
  • After making a donation, be sure to review your financial accounts to ensure additional funds are not deducted or charged.
  • Always do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus, purchasing COVID-related products online, or providing your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits.

The FBI has more tips at fbi.gov/charityfraud.

If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, report it to the FBI online at tips.fbi.gov and to FTC  at ftc.gov/complaint.

Blogs to Follow:

FBI.gov (October 2020)  FBI Warns of Potential Charity Fraud Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maryland Department of Labor Uncovers Massive Criminal Fraud Scheme

The State of Maryland has uncovered a massive and sophisticated criminal enterprise involving more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland and totaling over $501 million.


47,500 Fraudulent Unemployment Claims Using Identity Theft Totaling Over $501 Million Alerted U.S. Attorney and U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General Maryland Department of Labor Assisting in Investigation of Similar Fraud Cases in States Across the Country

The State of Maryland has uncovered a massive and sophisticated criminal enterprise involving more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland and totaling over $501 million.

Maryland’s swift and decisive actions to expose this illegal scheme helped shed light on related fraudulent criminal activity in other states across the country.

The Maryland Department of Labor (Labor) is coordinating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) to investigate and prosecute individuals and organized criminal rings are taking advantage of the PUA program by filing fraudulent claims by using stolen personally identifiable information.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our department has balanced the goal of quickly paying unemployment insurance benefits to eligible claimants with the need to maintain program integrity due to the prevalence of fraudulent activity occurring in other states,” said Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson.

“With heightened security measures in place, our department quickly detected, reported, and blocked this fraudulent claim activity, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to prevent fraudsters from capitalizing upon the hardships caused by the coronavirus during these already difficult and uncertain times.”

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur stated, “My office and the entire law enforcement community are committed to bringing to justice fraudsters who are preying on citizens during this unprecedented public health crisis by using their stolen personal information to fraudulently attempt to obtain unemployment benefits. We are grateful for our partnership with the State of Maryland in stopping unemployment fraud and believe that this joint federal-state partnership will continue to bear fruit. We will continue to work together to prevent this abuse as well as continue our outreach efforts to make the public aware of COVID-19 scams and frauds. I urge citizens to remain vigilant and to report suspicious activity or fraudulent use of their personal information.”

“Today’s announcement results from our strong partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the State of Maryland, and demonstrates our joint commitment to combating fraud in the Unemployment Insurance program. The OIG will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and state workforce agency partners to aggressively pursue criminals who choose to enrich themselves without regard for taxpayers and individuals who truly need assistance,” said Derek Pickle, Special Agent-in-Charge, Washington Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

With the unprecedented increase in new unemployment insurance filed claims over the past several months due to COVID-19, and the additional programs offered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), states across the country are seeing an increase in reports of unemployment claims being fraudulently filed by imposters using stolen personally identifiable information.

If you believe that your information has been used to fraudulently file an unemployment insurance claim, please contact the Maryland Department of Labor’s Division of Unemployment Insurance by visiting MDunemployment.com or emailing ui.fraud@maryland.gov.

Suspected unemployment insurance fraud should also be reported to the DOL-OIG Hotline by visiting http://www.oig.dol.gov/hotline.htm or calling 1-800- 347-3756.

If you think someone is using your personal information to open accounts, file taxes or make purchases, visit https://www.identitytheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft.

For more information about COVID-19 fraud, visit the Justice Department’s website at https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Blogs to Follow:

OIG.dol.gov (July 2020) Maryland Department of Labor Uncovers Massive Criminal Fraud Scheme

Nigerian National Brought to U.S. to Face Charges of Conspiring to Launder Hundreds of Millions of Dollars from Cybercrime Schemes

A Dubai resident who flaunted his extravagant lifestyle on social media has arrived in the United States to face criminal charges alleging he conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a U.S. law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League soccer club.


A Dubai resident who flaunted his extravagant lifestyle on social media has arrived in the United States to face criminal charges alleging he conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a U.S. law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League soccer club.

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, 37, a.k.a. “Ray Hushpuppi” and “Hush,” a Nigerian national, arrived in Chicago Thursday evening after being expelled from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abbas made his initial U.S. court appearance this morning in Chicago, and he is expected to be transferred to Los Angeles in the coming weeks.

Abbas was arrested last month by UAE law enforcement officials. FBI special agents earlier this week obtained custody of Abbas and brought him to the United States to face a charge of conspiring to engage in money laundering that is alleged in a criminal complaint filed on June 25 by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Abbas maintains social media accounts that frequently showed him in designer clothes, wearing expensive watches, and posing in or with luxury cars and charter jets. “The FBI’s investigation has revealed that Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and that he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to the affidavit.

The affidavit describes BEC schemes as often involving a computer hacker gaining unauthorized access to a business’ email account, blocking or redirecting communications to and/or from that email account, and then using the compromised email account or a separate fraudulent email account to communicate with personnel from a victim company and to attempt to trick them into making an unauthorized wire transfer.

“BEC schemes are one of the most difficult cybercrimes we encounter as they typically involve a coordinated group of con artists scattered around the world who have experience with computer hacking and exploiting the international financial system,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “This case targets a key player in a large, transnational conspiracy who was living an opulent lifestyle in another country while allegedly providing safe havens for stolen money around the world. As this case demonstrates, my office will continue to hold such criminals accountable, no matter where they live.”

“In 2019 alone, the FBI recorded $1.7 billion in losses by companies and individuals victimized through business email compromise scams, the type of scheme Mr. Abbas is charged with conducting from abroad,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “While this arrest has effectively taken a major alleged BEC player offline, BEC scams represent the most financially costly type of scheme reported to the FBI. I urge anyone who transfers funds personally or on behalf of a company to educate themselves about BEC so they can identify this insidious scheme before losing sizable amounts of money.”

“This was a challenging case, one that spanned international boundaries, traditional financial systems and the digital sphere,” said Jesse Baker, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Los Angles Field Office. “Technology has essentially erased geographic boundaries leaving trans-national criminal syndicates to believe that they are beyond the reach of law enforcement. The success in this case was the direct result of our trusted partnerships between the Department of Justice and our federal law enforcement colleagues. These partnerships helped dismantle a sophisticated organized crime group who preyed upon unsuspecting businesses. It is thanks to these partnerships that the American people can feel a bit more secure today.”

The affidavit alleges that Abbas and others committed a BEC scheme that defrauded a client of a New York-based law firm out of approximately $922,857 in October 2019. Abbas and co-conspirators allegedly tricked one of the law firm’s paralegals into wiring money intended for the client’s real estate refinancing to a bank account that was controlled by Abbas and the co-conspirators.

The affidavit also alleges that Abbas conspired to launder funds stolen in a $14.7 million cyber-heist from a foreign financial institution in February 2019, in which the stolen money was sent to bank accounts around the world. Abbas allegedly provided a co-conspirator with two bank accounts in Europe that Abbas anticipated each would receive €5 million (about $5.6 million) of the fraudulently obtained funds.

Abbas and others further conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from other fraudulent schemes and computer intrusions, including one scheme to steal £100 million (approximately $124 million) from an English Premier League soccer club, the complaint alleges.

         A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, Abbas would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The FBI led the investigation of Abbas, and the United States Secret Service was also involved and provided substantial assistance. The FBI further thanks the government of the United Arab Emirates and the Dubai Police Department for their substantial assistance.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Anil J. Antony and Joseph B. Woodring of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in this matter.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (July 2020) Nigerian National Brought to U.S. to Face Charges of Conspiring to Launder Hundreds of Millions of Dollars from Cybercrime Schemes

Not every COVID-19 testing site is legit


You probably know that COVID-19 tests are in short supply. But did you know there’s no shortage of scammers setting up fake COVID-19 testing sites to cash in on the crisis? 

The fake sites can look real, with legitimate-looking signs, tents, hazmat suits, and realistic-looking tests. And the damage these fake testing sites can cause is very real.

They aren’t following sanitation protocols, so they can spread the virus.

They’re taking people’s personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other health information – all of which can be used for identity theft and to run up your credit card bill. Worst of all, they’re not giving people the help they need to stay healthy. In other words, these testing sites are bad news.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking into testing sites.

  • If you think you should get tested, ask your doctor. Some people with COVID-19 have mild illness and are able to recover at home without medical care. They may not need to be tested, according to the CDC. Not sure if you need to get tested? Try the CDC’s self-checker.
  • Get a referral. Testing sites are showing up in parking lots and other places you wouldn’t expect to get a lab test. Some of these are legit – and some are not. The best way to know is to go somewhere you have been referred to by your doctor or state or local health department’s website. In other words, don’t trust a random testing site you see on the side of the road.
  • Not sure if a site is legit? Check with your local police or sheriff’s office. If a legitimate testing site has been set up, they should know about it. And, if an fake testing site is operating, they’ll want to know.

Spotted a fake COVID-19 testing site? We want to hear about it. Report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

FTC.gov (May 2020) Not every COVID-19 testing site is legit

Guarding Against COVID-19 Cyber Scams

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have released a warning to citizens to remain vigilant for scams related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).


The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have released a warning to citizens to remain vigilant for scams related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Cyber actors may send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes.

Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19.

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CISA encourages individuals to remain vigilant and take the following precautions:

Help a veteran in need by donating here.

US-Cert.gov (March, 2020) Defending Against COVID-19 Cyber Scams