Attorney General Directs Department of Justice to Crack Down on Coronavirus Scammers, Cyber Criminals

In a memo to attorney’s offices across the country, William Barr said that federal law enforcement should prioritize investigating and prosecuting crimes related to the pandemic.

Under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, federal attorney’s offices will focus on prosecuting scammers seeking to profit from growing panic over the coronavirus pandemic.

Barr sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys on Monday that stated the Department of Justice’s mission of “detecting, investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing” related to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to laying out steps the department is taking to keep federal law enforcement officers, attorneys and judges safe, Barr instructed attorneys to go after cybercriminals trying to take advantage of unsuspecting Americans.

In the memo obtained by CyberScoop, Barr pointed to reports of businesses selling fake coronavirus cures online, phishing campaigns from scammers pretending to be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, and criminals inserting malware on mobile apps claiming to track the spread of COVID-19.

“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr wrote. “Every U.S. Attorney’s Office is thus hereby directed to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.”

Read More: High Number of Recently Created Coronavirus Websites Linked to Scamming Operations

Attorneys were advised to work closely with local and state authorities to ensure that federal law enforcement is informed about “misconduct as quickly as possible” and that enforcement tools are available to punish those crimes.

The memo was sent shortly after cybersecurity researchers and journalists reported on apps pretending to offer information on the virus that actually just infected users’ phones with malware. One Android app even downloaded ransomware to the user’s phone, only unlocking the device if the owner sent $100 in Bitcoin within 48 hours, according to Forbes.

Americans are advised to not click on links from emails or users they do not recognize, and only download apps from official app stores, which have likely been vetted by Apple or Google. Both companies have said they have cracked down on malicious apps in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic sprouted scams and cybercrime.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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