As his team of 155 federal prosecutors is spread out, many now teleworking to abide by social-distancing recommendations, U.S. Attorney John Lausch wants the residents of the Northern District of Illinois to rest assured: His office is open and on the lookout for COVID-19-related scams on the rise.
Lausch spoke exclusively with NBC 5 Chicago to share what consumers can do, to both protect themselves and help catch predators.
“A national crisis is no safe harbor for criminal action. If people are out there and they think this is a going to be a time when they can pull one over on people, and they think they can make some money, rest assured, we will be there," Lausch said. "We're going to be looking out for that, and we’re going to prosecute you if that’s what you’re doing.”
Lausch said both he and the men and women of his office are doing well, despite the challenges of the current environment. He said all prosecutions are going forward, though affected by the limited federal court schedule.
"It is a challenging time," Lausch said. "But in some ways, it has also brought us closer together."
Last month, veteran federal prosecutor Tyler Murray was appointed by Lausch to head up the office's investigations of COVID-19-related scams. And Lausch expects there will be many.
On hoarding: "If we get a tip, you are going to get a knock on the door."
On price-gouging: “Every time we hear about someone trying to monetize the disaster in some way that is inappropriate and illegal, that makes everyone’s blood boil."
On robocalls that prey on the most vulnerable: "There is no cure for coronavirus, as you know. And once there is? You will not hear about it in a robocall."
Does his office have a strategy for preventing the inevitable scams related to the viral crisis?
"One of the ways is what we are doing right now: me, talking with you and your viewers to really let them know that we are on the lookout for fraud, and they should be, too," Lausch said.
Lausch urged consumers who are approached by any type of suspicious offer to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, at 866-720-5721, or email the details of it to firstname.lastname@example.org.