The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against more than a dozen people from Florida to California in a series of Medicare scams that exploited coronavirus fears to bill tens of millions of dollars in bogus claims. A common hook involved a pandemic variant of identity theft: Fraudsters allegedly offered COVID-19 tests to get the Medicare numbers of unsuspecting patients, and then used that information to bill for lucrative but unneeded genetic tests that can cost thousands of dollars, the AP reports. "At a time when most American pulled together ... a small percentage of individuals have decided to steal from programs valuable to those who are most in need,' said Chris Schrank, assistant inspector general for investigations with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The law enforcement actions involved the Justice Department's criminal division, the FBI, US attorney's offices in seven states, as well as the HHS inspector general's office and other agencies. Bogus billings exceeded $140 million before the schemes were blocked. Wednesday's charges look back to the early months of the pandemic, when there was a high demand for COVID tests still in short supply and Medicare had loosened its restrictive policies on telemedicine consultations. Lately the schemes have shifted, and many that are popping up involve fake vaccination cards bearing a likeness of the official HHS logo, Schrank said. Wednesday's charges come a little more than a week after Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the establishment of a special task force dedicated to countering COVID-19 fraud.
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