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Fraud in the Age of COVID-19

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on July 5, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic not only dealt a major blow to our economy, education, healthcare, and daily lives, but also led to new and serious criminal charges, particularly those surrounding vaccinations. Federal and state governments have issued warnings throughout the pandemic about healthcare fraud, fake vaccination cards, and lying about COVID-19. To ensure that you understand the full ramifications of these crimes, our team is here to explain the complex laws surrounding vaccine fraud.

Healthcare Fraud and COVID-19

Almost immediately after the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) warned consumers of the risk of healthcare fraud. Healthcare fraud is both a state and federal crime that occurs when an individual attempts to defraud a patient, healthcare facility, or insurance provider of money, goods, or services. This can range from lying about the costs of treatment to using a fake prescription to obtain addictive pain-killers.

With regard to COVID-19, federal investigators are specifically looking out for fraud that involves:

  • Illegally charging patients for COVID-19 vaccines, which are free according to the CDC.
  • Requiring a patient to receive another medical procedure before allowing him/her to have a vaccine.
  • Overcharging for COVID-19 tests.
  • Violating telehealth regulations.
  • Illegally manufacturing and selling home testing kits.
  • Hoarding and price gouging medical supplies and equipment.
  • Falsifying prescriptions to obtain opioids.

Hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies should ensure they are abiding by all CDC, FDA, and CMS regulations throughout the remainder of the pandemic — and beyond. If a prosecutor chooses to pursue charges against you, a federal investigation for healthcare fraud can drastically impact your professional reputation, business certifications, and medical license.

Fake Vaccine Cards

Upon receiving a COVID vaccine, patients are provided with a vaccine card that acts as a record of the number of shots they have received and their current vaccination state. Pfizer and Moderna currently require two vaccine shots to be considered effective, while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine only requires one shot.

With mask mandates being reinstated in the entire state of California and other parts of the country, many businesses and government agencies are requiring individuals to be fully vaccinated before entering certain properties or traveling out of the country. At the start of 2020, many individuals attempted to sell fake vaccine cards that falsely stated the bearer was fully vaccinated. Despite the availability of vaccinations, these cards are still in circulation, and individuals who attempt to sell them can be charged with vaccination fraud under federal law.

The FBI has stated that it is illegal to buy, create, and distribute fake vaccine cards. The agency specifically cited 18 U.S. Code § 1017, which makes it a federal offense to wrongfully copy a government seal (COVID-19 vaccine cards have the CDC’s seal on them). The FBI has also stated that other charges may apply if someone is caught using a fake vaccination card.

Doing Things the Right Way

During these difficult and confusing times, it is important for both business owners and consumers to understand their rights. Violating federal law comes with steep penalties, including fines, imprisonment in federal prison, and the loss of licenses and certifications. But being that these crimes are new and this pandemic unprecedented, many people are getting lost in the crossfire.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP have decades of experience defending clients in federal courts. We can explain your rights after an arrest. If you have been charged with a federal crime, contact us at (213) 688-0460 to set up a free, confidential consultation.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense