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Local police departments across Rhode Island and Connecticut are working closer with state and federal agencies in an effort to combat a rise in fraudulent schemes related to COVID-19.

Law enforcement agencies throughout New England participated in a teleconference Tuesday hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to discuss strategies to identify and combat COVID-19 fraud, an effort officials said has become necessary due to a growing number of reported scams over the past few weeks.

In the weeks to come, state and local police added that they only anticipate further rises in a variety of scams — including efforts by those who would seek to rob people of their economic stimulus checks.

"We have continued to remain hard at work, and we are willing to bet our scammers near and far have been too," the Hopkinton Police Department warned local residents on their Facebook page. "Please be weary of anything that seems suspicious related to stimulus checks. There is a lot of information and uncertainty floating around out there. Do not allow yourself to become victimized during these already difficult times."

According to the FBI, online perpetrators have engaged in phishing campaigns in the past week that have included specific scams targeting first responders, led to ransomware being deployed at medical facilities, and created fake COVID-19 websites that quietly download malware to victim devices.

Based on recent trends, the FBI said these same groups will target businesses and individuals working from home via telework software vulnerabilities, education technology platforms, and new Business Email Compromise schemes.

U.S. Attorney Aaron L. Weisman, who oversees the District of Rhode Island for the U.S. Department of Justice said law enforcement agencies plan to crack down on the efforts, seeking harsh penalties against those who would exploit people struggling as a result of challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition to investigating and arresting fraudsters, law enforcement across Rhode Island are committed to providing important information to help keep individuals from falling victim to fraudsters and scammers.

“Fraud related to COVID-19 is particularly disturbing as it exploits a national crisis that threatens the health and safety of every American for personal gain,” Weisman said. “Attorney General William Barr has directed all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of crimes related to coronavirus. Working with local, state, and federal law enforcement across the state we are committed to doing just that. There will be no second chances for COVID-19 fraudsters.”

For more information, including regular updates regarding known local scams and information on how to avoid becoming a victim, visit the U.S. Attorney’s Office website at www.justice.gov/ri. Additional resources are also available through the Department of Justice at www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

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