KINGSTON, N.Y. — Ulster County District Attorney David J. Clegg announced the creation of a Special Crimes Unit to address COVID-19 related crimes. “We believe there is a growing need to combat the fraudsters and scammers that take advantage of the fears and vulnerabilities created by the pandemic,” said Clegg.
Assistant District Attorney Jessica Mila Schutzman, Director of Financial and Cyber Investigations, will lead the Ulster County District Attorney (UCDA) unit and will coordinate efforts with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Office of the New York State Comptroller. ADA Schutzman has spent over 13 years specializing in all types of financial crimes, including schemes to defraud, elder financial exploitation, and is a member of a global online community helping to fight cybercrime which is specifically leveraging COVID-19.
Also participating in the unit will be Assistant District Attorney Emmanuel Nneji, who along with decades of experience prosecuting serious crimes, spent seven years with the NYS Attorney General’s Office prosecuting financial crimes, and Patrick Long, who has spent 20 years advocating for and mediating consumer complaints for Ulster County residents and leads the Division of Consumer Affairs for the office.
District Attorney Clegg believes that “we can more effectively combat these fraudsters and scammers by working in conjunction with the Office of the New York State Comptroller and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.” The UCDA unit will prioritize the processing, investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 related crimes.
In these unprecedented times when people are experiencing en masse levels of vulnerability, District Attorney Clegg and Orange County District Attorney Hoovler are committed to a zero-tolerance policy towards any scammers/fraudsters leveraging COVID-19 and will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
COVID-19 related crimes include:
- Advance fee schemes – where a victim pre-pays partially or in full on-line for a service/good related to COVID-19 and receives little or nothing in return;
- Business email compromise schemes – where a legitimate email address gets spoofed (using a COVID-19 hook) and succeeds in what may be legitimate payments by the victim being re-directed to a fraudsters’ bank account;
- COVID-19 testing schemes – where victims (especially the elderly) are contacted via email, by phone, or in person and are told that the government requires them to take a COVID 19 test. As part of that contact by the fraudster, victims provide confidential medical information (including his/her Medicare or Medicaid number) which is then used to defraud government or private health care programs (health care fraud schemes).
- COVID-19 treatment schemes – fraudsters are leveraging this plague to sell fake cures, treatments, and vaccines by contacting the victims via online advertisements, phone, and email. As part of the scam, besides selling a fake product, the fraudster often successfully obtains the victims’ financial information, Medicare or Medicaid number, or private health insurance information.
- Federal relief scams – where fraudsters are attempting to steal personal/financial information, leveraging that the federal government will be sending out payments as part of the economic relief package.
- Phishing attempts leveraging Emergency COVID-19 information – where fraudsters attempt to use victims’ fears about COVID-19 as an opportunity to phish (i.e. attempt to get an individual to click on a link to install malware, steal passwords, get access to sensitive information). The email or text appears to be from an official organization and either asks for donations or asks the victim to take other action.
“COVID-19 created an unprecedented disruption to our lives which has caused many, particularly seniors, to use the internet in ways they are not accustomed to,” said Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler. “We must be more cautious than ever about unsolicited offers related to the pandemic. As always, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As always, if you believe you are the victim of a crime contact law enforcement. I look forward to working with District Attorney Clegg, Comptroller DiNapoli, and all our law enforcement partners, to stop scammers looking to prey on those who are at their most vulnerable.”
“Taking advantage of a pandemic to commit fraud is reprehensible,” said State Comptroller DiNapoli. “District Attorney Clegg and District Attorney Hoovler are leaders in educating the public and sending a strong message that this deplorable behavior will not be tolerated. I am proud to partner with them and with law enforcement across the state to protect New Yorkers and hold those who would commit these crimes accountable.”
Anyone in Ulster County who believes they are being targeting by scammers should contact the Ulster County District Attorney’s Division of Consumer Affairs at 845-340-3260 or by email at plon[at]co.ulster.ny[dot]us.
Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money across the State by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at investigations[at]osc.ny[dot]gov, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.