COVID-19 and Crime

The COVID-19 crisis offers abundant opportunities for criminals and it provokes individuals who are already on edge – to act out. 

COVID-19 home quarantines have the effect of making us go ‘stir crazy’.  But this crisis also tends to stir up those folks who are already primed to violence.  The unknowns, danger, disruption and isolation has upped our collective anxiety.  It is not surprising that for  those individuals already on the edge suffering from mental illness, COVID-19 can be a trigger.  Some people breakdown to eat a quart of rocky road ice cream but others express themselves in ways that are violent.

Train engineer Eduardo Moreno intentionally derailed a train moving at full speed at the Port of Los Angeles.  He ran the train off the end of tracks, and crashed through a series of barriers before coming to rest more than 250 yards from the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy.

Moreno told an arresting officer, “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will,” the complaint alleges. He apparently wanted to bring attention to the government’s activities regarding COVID-19, and was suspicious of the real purpose of ship docked just off shore.

In San Antonio, the FBI arrested Christopher Perez who had posted threats on Facebook where he claimed to have paid someone to spread corona virus at local groceries.  He said that his aim was to dissuade people from shopping at grocery stores to help prevent the spread of the virus.  Perez is facing the charge of perpetrating a hoax involving biological agents for which he could get a federal sentence of up to five years.

Crime is Down and it’s Up

Current statistics point to a downturn in criminal activity in the wake of COVID-19 quarantine. It would seem that in some instances, criminals are also staying at home.  For the end of March, New York City has seen a drop in serious felonies of around 17% compared to last year.  Homicide in Chicago was down 30% during the last week of March.  Los Angeles has also seen a decrease in crime.  

One explanation for the dip is that criminal targets are off the street, and full houses are a less appealing target for break-in.  Also, with so few people out on the streets, it is much harder for criminals to blend in or otherwise cover their activities.  Anyone out and about is suspicious, criminals included.

Yet business owners are naturally concerned about the potential for vandalism of empty store fronts and offices.  Reliance on CCTV is high.

As unemployment rates rise, it would be logical to see an increase in criminal behavior.  Criminals look for opportunity.  They get creative.  Threats are ever changing and we need to be aware of the methods of operation associated with this activity.  According a Europol report, organized crime groups are trading counterfeit masks, gloves and drugs and impersonating health care officials offering “corona tests.”

The U.S. Department of Justice website warns us to be aware of various COVID-19 related scams, to include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake COVID-19 cures
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the WHO or CDC
  • Malicious websites and phone apps that appear to share virus information but are built to gain access to your computer or phone, lock them until payment is received.
  • Fraudulent or non-existent charities to help COVID-19 victims.

Other new threats associated specifically with Covid-19 include scams associated with the U.S. economic impact payments.  Payments are due to start being sent to tens of millions this week.  From the Internal Revenue Service website:

“ …be on the lookout for scam artists trying to use the economic impact payments as cover for schemes to steal personal information and money. Remember, the IRS will not call , text you, email you or contact you on social media  asking for personal or bank account information – even related to the economic impact payments. Also, watch out for emails with attachments or links claiming to have special information about economic impact payments or refunds.”

If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it contacting the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at disaster@leo.gov

For cyber scam, submit a complaint through //www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

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