The shortage of medical-grade face masks and other personal protective equipment has distressed medical workers and others at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The worst among us have tapped into that urgent need with fraudulent equipment.
In one recent case, a 24-year-old Michigan man is charged with operating a website that fraudulently marketed high-grade, desperately needed masks. Rodney L. Stevenson II has been charged with wire fraud due to his alleged participation in this coronavirus inspired scheme.
Steveson allegedly created and operated EM General, which advertised the sale of “Anti-Viral N95” respirator masks. This type of mask is intended for healthcare professionals as it is designed to protect against various viruses by filtering 95% of airborne particles, as compared to cloth masks, which filter far less. For a health care worker, the difference can be life and death. (If only there was a mask to protect against scammers and frauds.)
EM General claimed to sell the N95, despite the national shortage. Customers bought these masks for a minimum of $40 expecting to receive a high-quality product. Complaints began to be launched against the company when customer’s masks never arrived. Some victims who did receive a mask complained that it was “cheaply made cloth,” rather than the N95 mask. (Customers were expecting to receive bang for their buck, but the only thing they received was buckets of disappointment.)
The company used stock photographs and fictitious bios of a CEO and CFO to trick consumers into thinking their website was legitimate, according to investigators. (The scammers probably googled pictures of ‘Chads’ and ‘Jerrys’ and slapped them on their website.) Consumers from New York, California, and other states all believed that this site would provide them with a protective mask.
Stevenson claimed that EM General couldn’t refund customers for ‘faulty’ or ‘lost’ products due to $3 million of their funds being frozen by the Web hosting company, E-Commerce LLC. Stevenson filed a federal complaint against E-Commerce LLC in late March. (Displaced blame, maybe?)
“What’s described in the complaint is a consumer nightmare of fake web pages and false promises,” a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, where many victims were based, said.
A DOJ spokesperson said the department is vigilantly pursuing scammers looking to take advantage of the current pandemic. If one suspects a website of being fraudulent or trying to exploit COVID-19, they can report it by calling the DoJ’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from “Michigan man arrested for N95 mask fraud with Bay Area victims amid COVID-19 pandemic,” posted on abc7.com on April 28, 2020.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The ABC7 News I-Team has learned of a Michigan man arrested Tuesday morning for N95 mask fraud with several victims are here in the Bay Area.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California unsealed charges Tuesday in a criminal complaint charging Rodney L. Stevenson II with wire fraud for his operation of an e-commerce website that allegedly scammed customers into paying for N95 masks that they never received.