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COVID-19: Virtual and Economic Impacts in the World of Prosecution

Contributing Authors: Joyce R. King, Chief Counsel, Frederick County (MD) State’s Attorney’s Office & Nelson O. Bunn, Jr., Executive Director, NDAA

Photo credit: Pixabay/Stock Photo

The spread of the novel coronavirus has shifted large swaths of the country’s population to a virtual environment, abandoning the physical office space and opening up a whole new arena of challenges impacting communities and the criminal justice system. The increased virtual nature of work means a proliferation and enhanced risk of cybercriminals looking to exploit concerns surrounding public health by luring individuals into sharing sensitive information.

Cybercriminals may attempt to access personal information by distributing malicious email attachments and providing links to fake or fraudulent websites for protective products and services or soliciting donations to fraudulent charities or causes.

Any emails with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, hyperlink, social media pleas, texts or phone calls, should be reviewed carefully before making any commitments.

Some examples of the techniques employed by hackers that you should consider, specifically related to the coronavirus threat are:

  • Urgent emails requesting that you visit a website, install software, or reply with sensitive information.
  • Emails that purport to be from a co-worker or supervisor, where the email address doesn’t match their official work email.
  • Websites that you typically visit unexpectedly requiring the installation of software.
  • Emails from known or unknown parties, requesting that you forward chain letters, quizzes, surveys, or other information that is not part of your job function; and phone calls purporting to be from the help desk or other IT resources.

In parallel with the virtual world, bad actors may also try to take advantage of the current COVID-19 crisis by conducting activities considered to be price gouging. Prosecutors around the country have been issuing warnings to their communities to be aware of potential price gouging and to call state hotlines when a situation that potentially could be price gouging occurs.

  • In Oregon, state law allows district attorneys to address price gouging once the governor has determined that an “abnormal disruption of the market” has occurred.
  • In California, Penal Code Section 396 addresses price gouging by prohibiting businesses and retailers from charging prices for a given good or service that is more than 10% or the original cost prior to an emergency declaration.
  • In New Jersey, price gouging falls under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, which prohibits extreme increases in price, 10% or more, during a state of emergency, but also for 30 days after the termination of that emergency.
  • In Genesee County, MI, a new Task Force Against Gouging (TAG) was created by the local chief prosecutor and sheriff to track irregularities in prices for goods and services to protect their community from scams.

If you feel that a price gouging situation occurs, check with your local law enforcement agency to report the incident and ask about state hotlines and other resources available.

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