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Scammers Set Up Fake COVID-19 Testing Site

An essential worker shares the story of her encounter with fraudsters at a pop-up testing location

A graphic illustration of Episode 63 - Scammers Set Up Fake Coronavirus Test Site

AARP

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As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, scammers are taking advantage of this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty. In this special episode, we’ll hear from the Department of Justice about a new crop of coronavirus-related scams, including info on what to look out for and how to protect yourself. Then, Shannon, an essential worker and coronavirus survivor, shares her story of her encounter with a fake pop-up COVID-19 testing site in Kentucky.

A quote graphic illustration for Episode 63 of The Perfect Scam

AARP

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:01] Michelle: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] Their tech said something about the labs that they were working for, and it had HIPAA, but they had HIPAA spelled wrong. This lady didn't even switch the gloves out when she swabbed me. And then it dawned on me, what did they put in my mouth? You know? You just, you lose it. I, I was in a state of panic.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:25] Michelle: Welcome back to AARP's The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Michelle Kosinski. This week, an urgent subject. While you were out there trying to stay healthy and safe and afloat, thousands upon thousands of scammers have slimed their way out of the woodwork, and they're trying to get your money, which is even more disgusting than it normally is because so many people are worried about their futures right now. People are at home, online, and susceptible to scams claiming everything from an all-out cure for coronavirus to payday loans. They're even tailoring old scams like romance and impersonating the IRS or people's grandkids to the COVID crisis. Right now the Justice Department is getting thousands of calls a week, a week, from people alerting them to what clearly smell like scams, and even that, as usual, is the tip of the iceberg. This week, we'll take a closer look at the anatomy of scams in the time of crisis from a victim.

[00:01:28] I was desperate. And they took advantage of me.

[00:01:31] Michelle: As well as from a relentless scammer extraordinaire.

[00:01:34] Not only did I create the cure, but this pill right here is the prevention.

[00:01:41] Michelle: But first, few people under the vast, dark recesses of the scammer verse better than the DOJ's Assistant Director for Consumer Protection, Richard Goldberg.

[00:01:51] Rich Goldberg: I definitely know a scam when I see them.

[00:01:53] Michelle: Hey, can we queue some applause or something here now for Rich? (canned applause) He's working so hard to keep us all safe from scammery. We think he well deserves that, the social distancing version of a crowd. So, welcome Rich, and please regale us with some of the worst you're seeing out there.

[00:02:12] Rich Goldberg: There are cures that are being

sold, vaccines that are being sold, and the products in these cases oftentimes are actually delivered. And so people take these products believing that they have a cure or a vaccine or some other prevention. And they may put themselves at risk of the, of. of getting the illness...

[00:02:38] Michelle: Sure.

[00:02:38] Rich Goldberg: ...because there's a, a huge demand for masks, for hand sanitizer, a lot of people who are ordering supplies and simply not receiving it. That seems to be one of the easier scams to perpetrate. We're seeing counterfeit misrepresented personal protection equipment. We are seeing a lot of firms impersonating the government, trying to claim that people will receive their stimulus payment if they pay an advanced fee, and there was a scheme that claimed that a consumer's computer was infected with the coronavirus.

[00:03:13] Michelle: Ooh, yeah, well that's never going to happen. And I know already, just in the last few weeks, the DOJ has brought multiple cases against scammers across the country. Any of those jump out at you as particularly awful?

[00:03:27] Rich Goldberg: So we have a number of cases that have been filed against purveyors of purported treatments for COVID-19. We have one case involving an industrial bleach that was being sold to the public. We have one case involving ozone therapy, another case involving silver.

[00:03:49] Michelle: Right, and we'll talk more about some of these supposed therapies later. These are just egregious.

[00:03:55] Rich Goldberg: They said that silver in the bloodstream will usher any coronavirus out. So, the Department of Justice brought these allegations to the courts, and the court entered a temporary restraining order halting the sale of the purported treatments.

[00:04:11] Michelle: It sounds like something out of the 1800s, like this really is like snake oil.

[00:04:16] Rich Goldberg: Sure, so, there's a case that we brought out of Atlanta. There's an individual who was charged criminally in connection with a scheme purportedly to sell masks to the Veterans Administration. Allegedly the individual falsely claimed that he had over 125 million 3M masks to sell to the VA.

[00:04:40] Michelle: How many masks did this guy actually have? Zero?

[00:04:43] Rich Goldberg: He did not have anywhere near the masks that he claimed to have.

[00:04:47] Michelle: Ah, okay.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:04:50] Michelle: Nice, A big thank you to Rich, and we should bring him back later as well. Other nasty scams going on right now, including all kinds of phishing emails offering masks for sale, wanting you to click on shady websites that give away your personal information; activity that fraud experts say has gone up 350% since coronavirus. Some even offer nonexistent free stuff like iPhones. Google identified more than 300,000 suspicious websites in March alone. Conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, was offering products he claimed could help treat the virus like lotions, even toothpaste. Oh, and remember televangelist Jim Baker, the already once-convicted fraudster was also claiming that silver can cure it. The Federal authorities and tech companies now are trying to keep up with all those fake products scammers are trying to sell. Amazon has taken down more than a million items already in thousands of sellers' accounts. It is a real jungle out there, and we want you to meet someone now who was directly affected by a ring of scammers. Worse, someone who was already suffering painfully from coronavirus down in Louisville, Kentucky. Hi, Shannon, how are you doing now?

[00:06:07] Shannon Wilson: I am doing much better. Um, the CDC released me earlier this week.

[00:06:13] Michelle: Today, thank goodness Shannon Wilson is on the mend, but her harrowing experience only added potentially deadly insult to injury during the three weeks she fought hard to beat the virus.

[00:06:28] Michelle: Gosh, it must feel like you're on the other side of a long tunnel.

[00:06:34] Shannon Wilson: Yeah.

[00:06:35] Michelle: Shannon grew up and went to college in Louisville, now has two grown children. Today she gives back to her city as a specialist in the Housing Authority; an essential worker whose job it is to help other people. She started feeling symptoms towards the end of March, not long after her workplace was notified that somebody who had recently visited had come down with coronavirus.

[00:07:10] Shannon Wilson: And I got the diarrhea, the vomiting; the headache never subsided. I mean I had a headache for almost three weeks. And by the end of the weekend, by March 31st, I was just totally, you know, like I've got to do something. I've got to figure out if I have this or not.

[00:07:24] Michelle: She had been to the doctor, but they had no test for COVID-19. At home feeling terrible, Shannon was watching her local news one night when they announced that a pop-up testing site was happening outside a church. You could just drive up and get one. And she was also feeling pressure from work to determine whether she had the virus.

[00:07:46] Shannon Wilson: My job was like, "You have to have a positive test in order to be paid COVID pay, or you'd have to use your personal time, sick time, or whatever." So that was the reason that I actually even went out, um, searching, um, because the doctor's statement saying that I had multiple symptoms from the immediate care center wasn't enough.

[00:08:05] Michelle: That's, to me, that sounds crazy.

[00:08:09] Shannon Wilson: Yeah, that, their, you know, policies in place that's, that was their protocol. You know, um...

[00:08:16] Michelle: And at this point, you're feeling really poorly, like could you even stand up and get out of bed?

[00:08:21] Shannon Wilson: I could barely, no, not really. Not really, but I had to do what I had to do, because you think about it, you, no one asks for this, and then they get sick, and then you tell them, okay, well you can't be paid, and then you'd use personal time or your sick time. Okay, well you're already distressed.

[00:08:37] Michelle: That's a lot of pressure on you to have to, what did you have to get in your car and drive yourself?

[00:08:42] Shannon Wilson: Yeah, I had to get in my car, I was sick.

[00:08:44] Michelle: Could you breathe at this point?

[00:08:47] Shannon Wilson: I was having difficulty breathing. Yes.

[00:08:49] Michelle: Oh.

[00:08:49] Shannon Wilson: I was definitely having difficulty breathing. I was struggling.

[00:08:53] Michelle: She drives across town to this church. How did it look? How did it feel, lead us through moment by moment as you drive up.

[00:09:02] Shannon Wilson: Well, you have these white tents put up, and you have all these people in the parking lot with the PPE on. And um, they have cones out and they have sect--, they have the parking lot sectioned off for cars to park or whatever they may need. Um, there was a couple of cars in front of me. There was a couple of cars coming in behind me.

[00:09:21] Michelle: Did it look professional? Did they look like they had the right equipment on?

[00:09:25] Shannon Wilson: It, yeah, they were all covered in white or blue PPE. And they all had masks on. They have little tablets or their cell phones. Um, they have gloves on, but I noticed they were kind of big on them.

[00:09:37] Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

[00:09:39] Shannon Wilson: Just was kind of weird to me. I was like, this has got to be the craziest thing.

[00:09:43] Michelle: And she said that it all feels so surreal, she wants to start recording it on Facebook Live to show people the process.

[00:09:50] (feed) "Hi, how are you?" "Hi, how are you?"

[00:09:53] Michelle: She's greeted by a nice, friendly sounding woman to supposedly help her. And you can hear it in Shannon's voice just how poorly she felt.

[00:10:01] (feed) "How did it start?" "Um, it started with a really bad headache." "Okay." "Um, I lost um, my sense of taste and smell. My chest feels like a, a elephant sitting on it. My body is starting to ache, My muscles..."

[00:10:16] Michelle: The woman outside Shannon's barely open car window listens and offers advice on how to sleep at night. What to do if she starts feeling worse. She's very reassuring.

[00:10:26] (feed) "So you call, so just if you're having any increased difficulty breathing, or any aches and pains that you're, you know, that's concerning, you have to go straight to the..." "The emergency room." "The emergency room just to..."

[00:10:37] Michelle: Shannon is there in her car with the heat cranked up still shivering from her terrible fever and hoping for the best.

[00:10:44] Shannon Wilson: I was coughing, and having trouble breathing. And then they immediately was like, well she's already has, you know, she's here to be tested but this, this paper says she has multiple symptoms, so then they gave me a mask, a N95 mask which they had boxes of those things.

[00:10:59] Michelle: They took all of Shannon's personal information; her address, date of birth. She says, though, what they really seemed to want was Medicare of Medicaid information. Shannon had insurance from her work, but they told her it wasn't accepted, that she'd have to pay $240 for a test. They took credit cards.

[00:11:18] Michelle: It just seemed weird. I felt like, you know uh, uh, the walking dead. I keep thinking of that term because you're so sick, and but yet you're out, you know, trying to find any kind of help that you possibly can. And it was so crazy. I ended up in a church parking lot and I thought, okay. So the people walking up to you with masks on and treating you like a pariah, because, of course, you're coughing and they're like, "Turn your head that way. Don't," you know, "I have a kid at home, and I have," you know, "I have a 3-year-old daughter at home," this person is saying to me, and I'm just looking at her like, I am struggling to breathe.

[00:11:57] (feed) "So I'm ready for the credit card whenever you have it, you're ready."

[00:12:00] Shannon Wilson: I did notice that one had earbuds on. They were listening to music, and I was like, are you serious right now? Just bopping their heads, like everyday normal, and nothing to me was normal, you know. Everything in my life was falling apart and there was a gentleman walking around, and he was telling them, get doctors on the phones, and you know, servicing each car before you go to the next station.

[00:12:26] Michelle: Shannon says she then spoke to somebody on the phone over FaceTime dressed as a doctor who again asked about her symptoms.

[00:12:34] Shannon Wilson: She was looking down at something to verify, um, to, that I had enough of the symptoms to be tested is what she said she was doing. Um, once she did that, then they take the $200 fee, and then tell me that I have to go proceed down the line to the other section. The first thing they did was take my temperature when I pulled up. They had the, the rolling thermometers that go across your forehead. The first one, the battery was dead, so she had to get another one, and they just passed it. She took one out of her pocket and gave it to her, and then she used it. There, there was no sanitation, no nothing. They didn't wipe it off...

[00:13:15] Michelle: Oooh...

[00:13:16] Shannon Wilson: 'Cause I'm like, wait a minute. She didn't even wipe that off before she ran it across my forehead.

[00:13:21] Michelle: This is getting like dangerous at this point.

[00:13:24] Shannon Wilson: Their tag said something about the labs that they were working for, and it had HIPAA, but they had HIPAA spelled wrong. So you start noticing certain things. The RN just had a red tag with the same HIPAA certification, that just said RN. No name, no picture, no nothing. She had big gloves on, too. The gloves were just too big for their hands.

[00:13:46] Michelle: Maybe the strangest part was the test itself. Not like the swab way up into the nose like you see on TV, this was about 1 second, just a quick swab in Shannon's mouth, barely reaching her throat.

[00:13:59] (feed) "All right, sweetie." "Okay." "That's it, thank you." "Thank you." "Feel better." "Thank you."

[00:14:03] Michelle: Well, some of Shannon's friends were looking out for her, watching this all unfold live on Shannon's Facebook.

[00:14:09] (feed) "Just trying to breathe is, is a fight. This is the worst thing, and I mean the worst thing. You've got to be careful. I don't care what job you have; I don't care, it is not worth your life. You have a fear that you may not even make it through the night. So, just know that I love you guys, and do whatever you can to protect yourself and your loved ones. You've got to take it seriously."

[00:14:54] Michelle: And for them, seeing her suffer through this, using an inhaler to breathe, and then paying for that janky test, it was all too much.

[00:15:04] Shannon Wilson: And they were like, you need to check, be sure that's not a scam, duh-duh-duh-duh. I have a nurse, my sister-in-law is a nurse and she was on the live, and she was saying, you know, "I'm not sure about that."

[00:15:16] Michelle: Shannon, alarmed, calls her County Health Department to see if they know anything about this testing site. They don't. So even though she is exhausted now, she is determined to make sure these people don't hurt anyone out there.

[00:15:30] Shannon Wilson: Once I got home and I started going over the live feed, and I was like, oh my god, yeah, I was panicking, and so I sent my ex-husband, I said, "I need you to go check and see if these people are there, because something's not right."

[00:15:46] Michelle: By the time he made it out there, the police had already arrived and so had the media. The testers had gone. The place where Shannon had just given out all her personal information had just been busted as a big fraud.

[00:16:01] Shannon Wilson: And I lost it. I totally lost it when he said, "Shannon, hon, I'm so sorry. It's fake. They're not here. The police are here." I was devastated. I, I laid down for about an hour or so, and I was like, I cannot sleep. I need to know if this is a scam. I just gave these people $240. I'm off work for 14 days, every penny counts, and I just gave these people my money, and if they're not able to give me the test results, then we've got a major problem. That was my whole thought process. And then how many people went after me that this crazy lady didn't even switch the gloves out when she swabbed me. And then I it dawned on me, what did they put in my mouth? You know, what did they, what did... you just, you lose it. I, I was in a state of panic.

[00:16:52] Michelle: That night she ended up in the hospital. They helped her, tested her, and she was able to go home the next day. She did have coronavirus and felt doubly hurt from her scam experience. Shannon called her credit card company and found out that the person who charged her card, that supposed doctor that she spoke to over video chat, was actually a nurse practitioner based in Florida, but licensed to practice in Kentucky.

[00:17:20] Michelle: So do they think she's part of the scam?

[00:17:23] Shannon Wilson: I don't know if she was aware of who she was in cahoots with. I really don't know. But she didn't seem to be concerned about me either, 'cause I wanted to know why she would take advantage of people in the middle of a pandemic that were sick? Why would you do this? And she said that she's not responsible...

[00:17:39] Michelle: Oh, you talked to her?

[00:17:41] Shannon Wilson: I absolutely did.

[00:17:42] Michelle: Oh, you're, you're like an investigator here.

[00:17:44] Shannon Wilson: I was livid.

[00:17:46] Michelle: I can imagine.

[00:17:48] Shannon Wilson: She said, she's so sorry that it happened to me, but she's not responsible how or the, for the people that they, you know, call her, to, she just conducts the medical questions. So it's like she's, just like all I do is answer medical questions. You're a part of an elaborate scheme, but she's saying she has no knowledge and she's not responsible for what they do to people on the ground, is how she put it. Which is kind of crazy because the lab said the same thing. When I called the lab, they said, they just process the lab results, that's it, they're not responsible for what happens on the ground, which I found was really funny because they both said the same thing.

[00:18:29] Michelle: This group of testers had set up sites in three places just in Louisville. A city councilman believes these same people had been in town conducting supposed tests for DNA cancer markers about a year earlier and says the real goal is to take people's money and overbill Medicare, in other words, fraud, a booming business in scamworld. But remember, Shannon actually had coronavirus, so if they're not handling medical items properly, this is more than dangerous, it's potentially deadly.

[00:19:02] Shannon Wilson: How many people did they make sick because they were out there playing physicians.

[00:19:07] Michelle: The fact that they were doing this in the middle of a crisis to people who were fighting for their lives...

[00:19:14] Shannon Wilson: For their lives, yes. Absolutely. That was my whole point.

[00:19:17] Michelle: What do you think about people who would do something like this?

[00:19:21] Shannon Wilson: They're the scum of the earth. They they no conscience. I just don't know anybody who would take advantage of sick people, and possibly dying people.

[00:19:34] Michelle: Shannon has also been in touch with the FBI. She says they told her they are investigating this, and similar scams in several other states.

[00:19:44] Shannon Wilson: They go to large, populated areas that have Medicare, Medicaid. They are exploiting low income communities.

[00:19:53] Michelle: This is so painful to hear about.

[00:19:55] Shannon Wilson: And they now have my DNA. The FBI told me, she said, "I want you to know these are elaborate schemes, and all elaborate schemes have a hint of truth to them. So they may use a nurse practitioner that may very well may not know that they're scamming people out of a lot of money.

[00:20:14] Michelle: Right. What would you say to these people today if you could have the mastermind in front of you?

[00:20:20] Shannon Wilson: Shame on you. Seriously. Shame on you. I mean, there may be a few more choice words, but shame on you. No, you, you have to have a level, or you have to have a conscience, you have to have a level of decency and these people just don't. They did, they went out and they intentionally sought out low income communities to take advantage of at the worst possible time. People are literally dying, and you are stealing money from them. I was frantic. I was desperate, and they took advantage of me. And I was fearful that I wouldn't even see my kids again.

[00:20:56] Michelle: When we talked to Shannon, she'd only been symptom free for four days. She says she's overwhelmed with gratitude to have made it through and for all the well wishes she's gotten from people she doesn't even know. It's been a long road. And then later, on that same day, I get an email from some Chinese address offering to sell me all kinds of medical grade masks. Obviously, another scam. More of those emails would follow. Maybe you've gotten some too. So now, let's take a look inside the world of this scammer. As Shannon asked, what kind of person would take advantage of people at a time like this?

[00:21:35] (clip) I'm Keith Middlebrook. Today is March 9th, 2020, I'm on the beautiful Maybach. This is a $600,000 car, and I encourage you to set your goals, 'cause you can achieve anything you want.

[00:21:47] Michelle: Keith Middlebrook is 53 years old living in Southern California. A biography, possibly written by him, on a database for people in the film industry describes him as an actor who had appeared on an episode of the show, Judge Judy. Had apparently played a small role of a police officer in the movie Iron Man 2, and a baseball coach in Moneyball. The bio says he was born in Honolulu, that he currently operates some unnamed companies and is a single dad raising a daughter. But a look through his multiple social media accounts and websites makes him appear to be a scammer and poser straight out of central casting.

[00:22:26] (clip) Great, 'cause we're going to win. Everyone on my team, is a winner. That's what we do. That's what I train people to do. That's what I am. I live it, I breathe it, I sleep it. I am it. I'm here to make you successful.

[00:22:38] Michelle: He has a website called "Keith Middlebrook Pro Sports Entertainment." It was unclear what this company does. As tanned and muscled up as possible, Middlebrook refers to himself as a super entrepreneur icon and the real iron man. There are ads for occasional seminars featuring him on sports training, supplements, and wellness. You need to look this guy up and see some of this. He lists the Keith Middlebrook Foundation, the Law Offices of Keith Middlebrook, Keith Middlebrook Pro Sports Capital Management, and on and on. All of which seem to be bogus when you click the links. One leads to some websites for lipsticks though he really seems to want to hammer home the idea that he has a net worth of $33 million and that his companies are worth a billion. His photo is him in a suit standing in front of a private jet and a luxury car.

[00:23:32] (clip) And think like a millionaire. Think like a billionaire, and I'm giving you the powerful secrets right now how to do that, how to achieve and get anything you want, right now. Not next year, not 10 years from now, right now...

[00:23:46] Michelle: So he seems to also fancy himself a motivational speaker. On one of his Instagram accounts he calls himself a real estate mogul, a genius, a cleaner to the pros, an actor, writer, director, producer. There really doesn't seem to be anything this Keith Middlebrook can't do. He shows off photos with sports stars and plays the electric guitar wearing, of course, a black leather jacket.

[00:24:10] (clip) Keith Middlebrook, November 15th, 2018.

[00:24:15] Michelle: What he leaves out naturally is his federal indictment six years ago for fraud. He was accused of trying to sell celebrities and sports stars a way to boost their credit, charging big fees, but essentially doing nothing. That case ended up being dismissed though because prosecutors took too long to bring it. But things really started turning fishy again seven months ago when Middlebrook claimed on YouTube to have invented the cure for cancer... oh, and aging. And then when coronavirus appeared, he claimed to have cured that too.

[00:24:50] (clip) Not only did I create the cure, but this pill right here is the prevention. Don't listen to the negative news and the negative media of the coronavirus. There's already an antidote, people are getting up out of the hospital and walking away.

[00:25:05] Michelle: Federal prosecutors say he was trying to make money on this. A lot of money. He was looking for investors for his pills and injections saying that for a $300,000 investment, he would turn it into $30 million. One million would become 100 million. He offered one investor, who was really an undercover agent, some of the pills for around $10,000, a cure that Middlebrook, self-described genius, claims to have developed in six weeks.

[00:25:34] (clip) This is it right here, the pre-loaded injection. Yes, I created the cure that shuts down the COVID-19. Sucks the cells from the coronavirus; detach, release, and die within 48 hours. I've been studying cell tissue and chemical biology for well over two decades; I'm beyond qualified. I think omnimiscient.

[00:25:58] Michelle: Uh, he means omniscient, or all-knowing. What he did not know, however, was that he had been pedaling his snake oil to federal agents, at the same time touting his products to more than two million followers on Instagram in videos that have now disappeared, but he has several Instagram accounts that remain. A video on YouTube featuring his fake miracle cure has also been taken down. Middlebrook himself was taken down, arrested in an LA parking lot at the end of March by the federal agent who had been posing as a buyer and investor.

[00:26:34] (news clip) Feds say an LA man was preying on people's fears.

[00:26:37] (news clip) ...is in federal custody tonight, accused of trying to scam people out of their money. He got a million hits on Instagram which proved to be his undoing.

[00:26:45] Michelle: And that is the arc of the scammer. Federal prosecutors say Middlebrook did not have a company, did not have any cure or any means to produce one. He's charged with wire fraud. So let's talk to the DOJ's Rich Goldberg again about all we've heard. Quite a journey. There's a lot out there.

[00:27:04] Rich Goldberg: We're seeing all kinds of schemes that are taking advantage of what they'd already been doing before, but now with a COVID twist.

[00:27:12] Michelle: And I find these fake cures so outrageous and infuriating. I can't believe people are actually trying to pull this off, thinking they're not going to get caught. And you said there was another case, right, where somebody was trying to say ozone was the cure.

[00:27:26] Rich Goldberg: So on April 24th, the Consumer Protection Branch and the US Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Texas brought a case against a company called Purity Health and Wellness. There was a case under the Anti-Fraud Injunction Statute, and the allegations of the case are that this company sold an ozone therapy as a treatment for COVID-19. Uh, according to the documents we filed in court, the company claimed that the treatment would increase oxygen in the blood making it impossible for the virus to manifest. According to the claim, they also said that ozone therapy was the only prevention for COVID-19, and that it would eradicate the virus. We brought that case and the defendants have already agreed to a permanent injunction barring the claims from being made in the future.

[00:28:20] Michelle: Wow, so let me guess, ozone does not work to block the coronavirus.

[00:28:24] Rich Goldberg: So there is, is an unapproved uh, treatments. There is uh no real evidence that was offered. There's no substantiation that there was provided for these claims.

[00:28:39] Michelle: Your job must feel like playing whack-a-mole because you knock down one and another one just crops right back up.

[00:28:47] Rich Goldberg: If I felt like it was whack-a-mole, I'd probably most onto something else.

[00:28:51] Michelle: Oh, okay.

[00:28:52] Rich Goldberg: That's, that's, that's the reason why uh at the Consumer Protection Branch, we try to work with initiatives. We don't move from one case to another because that tends not to have a very effective result.

[00:29:10] Michelle: Got it.

[00:29:10] Rich Goldberg: We will look at a specific type of crime and try to figure out what is the infrastructure that's being used to commit those crimes, how is it being perpetrated, and try and get to the bottom of it so that we can have an effect on the entirety of the scheme in all of its manifestations, and we can also send a big public education message to let folks know that those scams are out there. So we've done that in tech support fraud, we've done that in mass mailing fraud schemes. We really try and dig in. And that's one of the reasons why we're really focused on COVID-19 fraud because it's an area where we can get to know the infrastructure, see what's being used, analyze it, and try and really make a difference as opposed to just whacking moles.

[00:29:58] Michelle: Very good. And what would you say is the most difficult part of your job?

[00:30:02] Rich Goldberg: Seeing the victims. You never get used to hearing the stories of individuals. You know, we deal in mass victims. A lot of our cases involve dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of victims at times. And each one of those victims has a story to tell, and that feeling of hearing how somebody was victimized and lost their life savings never, you never get numb to that kind of thing. It, you know, it, you relive it every time you hear that somebody has really been harmed that much. So that's, I would say, the most difficult thing, it's sort of the emotional toll that it takes to hear that this, and this will always continue. As you said, there have always been snake oil salesmen, there have always been frauds, and there always will be, but knowing that we can make a difference is what really keeps you going.

[00:31:01] Michelle: Thank you. You're fantastic. I really appreciate the work you do, too; this is wonderful.

[00:31:06] Rich Goldberg: And I appreciate your getting the word out, so without that, you know, that, that's a lot of why we do what we do, is to get the message out.

[00:31:15] Michelle: Yeah, for sure, for sure. All right, well good luck and stay safe out there.

[00:31:20] Rich Goldberg: Thanks very much.

[00:31:21] Michelle: He says stopping coronavirus scams is a top priority right now throughout the Justice Department, and that extends to every district in every state in the country with resources devoted to finding and eradicating these things. They can't tackle every single one, but like he said, they go for the big networks and the ones that cause the most harm first. And at this point, the larger scam networks tend to be based overseas while the smaller attempts are right here at home just waiting for us to click on that link or answer that call.

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[00:31:56] Michelle: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline, at 877-908-3360. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Michelle Kosinski.

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END OF TRANSCRIP

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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