Department of Justice

WASILLA — AARP recently partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI to host a telephonic town hall meeting Monday to raise awareness and answer the public’s questions surrounding the rampant rise of COVID-19 fraud.

“I think it’s really important,” AARP Alaska Communications Director Sarana Schell said. “This is definitely a timely event.”

Bryan Schroder, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska; Ryan Tansey, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska; and Chris Gonzalez, Special Agent with the FBI Anchorage Field Office will combine their knowledge and resources to take questions Monday at 1 p.m.

The goal is to empower Alaskans to protect themselves from scammers taking advantage of the pandemic.

“COVID related fraud is rampant right now,” Schell said.

The Federal Trade Commission received over 18,000 COVID-19-related fraud reports from Jan. 1 to April 15, with people reporting losses totaling to $13.44 million dollars, according to a recent press release.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate any shameful exploitation of the global health pandemic, and will take swift action to bring these fraudsters to justice,” Schroder stated in the release. “This joint effort highlights the importance of collaboration with our law enforcement partners and public service organizations, as we continue to protect Alaskans from these schemes.”

Scammers, be it online or over the phone have an array of go-to tricks and methods at their disposal when attempting to elicit information from people. Even more sobering, Schell pointed out, is the fact that these faceless criminals can reach people from anywhere on the planet, so rural communities like the Mat-Su Valley are just as susceptible to attacks as anywhere else.

“The world has gotten smaller,” Schell said.

A common tactic for scammers is to create a sense of urgency with their initial point of contact, whether it’s an email prompting the reader to click a clink or take some other immediate action.

Schell said it’s common to see cases of scammers researching a victims’ social media information and convincingly pretend to be a relative of theirs, asking for money for some dire reason they fabricated.

“Scammers try and get people anxious or fearful about something, or excited about an opportunity… The pandemic is already doing that for them. Everybody’s a little bit anxious, a little bit more wound up than they usually are,” Schell said. “Just push pause and check it out.”

Many scammers have purchased domain names and phone numbers similar to frequently used and legitimate sources like the official IRS website.

“Despite the challenging times we are all navigating, certain things remain the same, scammers are still doing everything they can to defraud people of their hard-earned money and the FBI is doing everything we can to ensure they don’t succeed,” Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Anchorage Field Office, Robert Britt stated in the release.“We are proud to partner with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the AARP to bring important information to the public in our effort to prevent members of our community from falling victim to these schemes.”

The telephonic town hall takes place Monday at 1 p.m.

To participate, register at vekeo.com/aarpalaska, or call 855-286-0294 toll-free. The event will also stream at facebook.com/aarpak.

A video recording will be available after the meeting at vekeo.com/aarpalaska.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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