As our social institutions adjust to cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the headlines reflect this unprecedented time, including measures by the courts and law enforcement to minimize person-to-person contact as much as possible.
Despite this, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners have a firm warning for criminals: We remain on the job, doing our part to keep the people of Northern Florida safe.
We are all seeing countless examples of this “new normal” bringing out the best in people through acts of kindness and charity. However, we in law enforcement are also seeing examples of the other side of human nature, including scam artists and other lawbreakers who mistakenly think everyone is so distracted by the virus that they will enjoy a free ride on their criminal misdeeds.
They will find out otherwise.
An array of federal law enforcement agencies — including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, DEA, ATF, HSI, U.S. Marshals Service, and more — remain hard at work identifying, pursuing, arresting, and prosecuting offenders. We have been reporting for duty every day, working with our partners at the state and local levels to uphold the sacred trust placed in us by the law-abiding citizens we are sworn to serve.
Among other examples, my office and Florida’s other U.S. Attorneys have teamed up with Florida’s Attorney General to crack down on scam artists trying to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic by cheating Florida consumers, especially the state’s vulnerable elders. This is especially important in light of Florida’s large elderly population and reports of everything from bogus COVID-19 “cures,” to phishing scams that purport to be official government health websites.
We are also seeing increasing examples of cyber-related criminal activity associated with COVID-19, including scammers trying to get people to pay to receive their federal stimulus dollars — funds that have not even been approved by Congress yet.
There are no limits to the depraved desire of some to take advantage of people at their most vulnerable times. The concern and fear being experienced by so many upstanding citizens provide fertile ground for criminals, and that is why we are remaining ever vigilant.
At the direction of the Department of Justice, my office has joined U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the nation to appoint Coronavirus Fraud Coordinators in each district. These coordinators will serve as the legal counsel for the Northern District of Florida on matters relating to the coronavirus, direct the prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes, and conduct outreach and awareness activities to reassure the law-abiding public.
Our Assistant United States Attorneys are at their posts. Our law enforcement partners remain on duty. Judges stand ready to hear vital law enforcement matters necessary to keep the public safe and secure.
COVID-19 has created a tremendous amount of worry within the population. Our goal is to make sure our citizens do not also have to worry about whether their criminal justice system is still working to protect them. We are very much on the job for them.
The only ones who should be worrying are the criminals.
Lawrence Keefe is the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.