Last week, FBI agents from San Diego and Los Angeles arrested a Southern California man who claimed he had created a “patent-pending cure” for COVID-19, according to federal authorities.
The agents arrested the 53-year-old Keith Lawrence Middlebrook when he delivered the supposed coronavirus cure in pill form to an undercover agent posing as an investor.
“Every major health authority has warned that there is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 and no vaccine to prevent coronavirus infection,” federal authorities said in a statement.
Middlebrook, who was allegedly soliciting investments with promises of massive profits, was arrested on suspicion of wire fraud.
The Associated Press reported that Middlebrook, an actor with several uncredited film and television parts, had a federal court appearance Thursday, where a judge set his arraignment for April 16.
“Although the … criminal activity was centered in (Los Angeles), San Diego FBI agents worked the case to stop this fraudulent activity using the COVID pandemic,” FBI Special Agent Davene Butler, a spokeswoman for the agency’s San Diego field office, wrote in an email Friday.
“It is an example of the work we are doing to stop these scammers.”
On March 20, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning that the agency was seeing “a rise in fraud schemes” related to COVID-19. The agency continued its warnings last week.
“Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both,” according to a statement from Butler.
She warned members of the public to protect themselves and research the legitimacy of crowdfunding campaigns, online purchases and links purporting to provide information about the pandemic. The agency also warned the public about giving up personal information in an attempt to receive money or other benefits.
Butler said the FBI in San Diego “is prepared to detect, deter, investigate” and bring to justice those who take advantage of the crisis.
“We want to assure the public that the FBI continues our important work in protecting the American people, specifically those in San Diego and Imperial Counties, despite these unprecedented times,” Omer Meisel, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego division, said in a statement.
Specifically, the FBI is warning people to be wary of fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; phishing emails asking for personal information in order to receive an economic stimulus check from the government; and fake treatments, like the one Middlebrook was allegedly offering.
Victims of Internet scams or cybercrimes, or anyone wanting to report suspicious activity, can call the FBI’s San Diego field office at (858) 320-1800 or make a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
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