When disasters hit, the impact can take its toll on individuals, communities, businesses and much more. In the midst of a disaster or shortly thereafter, people, businesses and governments are focused on moving forward. And disaster fraud, a type of financial crime that typically occurs after a catastrophe, is typically not at the forefront of one’s mind.

Thomson Reuters is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, April 22, to explore how disaster fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic may be seen as an opportunity for fraudsters, and discuss ways to mitigate or prevent it. Jim Dinkins, president of Thomson Reuters Special Services (TRSS), and David Thompson, director of Business Development for TRSS, will be joined by industry expert Derek Benner, executive associate director at U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the session will be moderated by Gina Jurva, Esq., manager, Market Insights & Thought Leadership at Thomson Reuters.

Legal Current had an opportunity to catch up with Mr. Dinkins in advance of the webinar for his insights. Below is a recap of the conversation.

Legal Current: What are the most common types of disaster-related fraud activity?

Dinkins: There are scams related to charitable solicitations, contractor and vendor fraud, price gouging, counterfeit and fraudulent products, phishing schemes and financial elder abuse. Investment scams, miracle cures and fraudulent crowdfunding platforms have become widespread, and consumers should be on the lookout. Another concerning type of fraud involves the elderly population, and surrounding COVID-19, the most at risk population. There are boiler rooms of tele-fraud criminal organizations that target the elderly, such as with lottery scams. Today, those boiler rooms will refocus their efforts to defraud the elderly population with fraudulent financial schemes involving stimulus funding as well as fraudulent testing and miracle vaccines.

LC: Why does predatory criminal activity increase during disasters like the current pandemic situation?

Dinkins: While most people and companies want to help others in times of need, transnational criminal organizations see disasters, such as what we are going through related to COVID-19, as an opportunity to take advantage of people and make money. Unfortunately, these bad actors aim to capitalize on people’s fears and manipulate unsuspecting victims into parting with their money. Additionally, many programs may be vulnerable as organizations may not have the resources or technology to verify individuals or their need, and fraudsters often look to take advantage there as well.

LC: How is Thomson Reuters supporting customers combatting fraud?

Dinkins: We offer robust tools to help specifically target information related to fraud and other criminal activity. We also provide customers with extensive tools and resources to help research and prevent fraudulent activity, and to conduct investigations when fraud has been committed. This is an area and time when big data, open source and proprietary information can be empowering.

LC: How can financial institutions, government agencies and consumers prevent and mitigate disaster fraud?

Dinkins: A starting point is for consumers to be alert about possible scams and fraudulent activity related to COVID-19. This is an area that everyone needs to do their part, and it starts with education and knowing the risks. There can’t be an expectation that law enforcement will solve all this on their own and arrest our way out of it. Individuals and organizations should proceed carefully and verify who they are providing their information to or who they are working with when receiving disaster resources or donating to help. And organizations should examine their processes to mitigate the risk of being exploited by bad actors. The best case is that we can prevent fraud from occurring in the first place through pro-active efforts by government and private sector. Having spent 28 years in law enforcement, I would rather not have to have the conversation that we arrested the criminal who defrauded a victim out of their retirement and life savings, but would rather help educate people and conduct the best due diligence possible to prevent fraud from occurring.

LC: Thank you, Jim. We appreciate you taking some time to visit with us in advance of the webinar. To register for the upcoming webinar, “COVID-19: Disaster Fraud Schemes,” on Wednesday, April 22 at 1 pm ET, click here.

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