As U.S. companies face record losses amid the coronavirus pandemic, the FBI is warning that American businesses now have something else to worry about: fraud by employees seeking to take advantage of the pandemic.
In a report disseminated Monday to companies across the nation, and obtained by CNN, the FBI’s Office of Private Sector notified members of private industry they should be on the lookout for fake doctors notes and falsified documentation from employees claiming positive COVID-19 test results.
The bureau report warned that the steps a company must take to stop business operations and sanitize work spaces could lead to significant financial loss.
As one example, the FBI report described an incident in March where an employee working for an unidentified “critical manufacturing company” told their bosses they had tested positive for COVID-19 and submitted what appeared to be documentation from a medical facility.
“In response, the company shut down the affected manufacturing facility to disinfect the location, ceasing production and halting delivery of necessary materials to the plant,” the FBI report stated. “The company notified all employees at the facility, including four workers who had close contact with the reportedly infected employee and were required to self-quarantine.”
Upon subsequent close review of the employee’s medical documentation, supervisors became suspicious.
The letter indicating the positive COVID-19 testing was not on official letterhead from a medical facility. A call to a telephone number listed on the documentation revealed the number was not actually associated with a location that conducted novel coronavirus testing at the time the letter was written.
In total, the FBI estimates the victim company incurred over $175,000 in lost productivity due to the alleged scam. One coworker of the alleged scammer, believing they had been exposed to the virus, also faced personal financial loss after deciding to pay for a rental property where they could remain self-quarantined away from members of their family.
The FBI says companies should take certain actions to prevent from becoming the victim of a fraudulent COVID-19 claim.
The bureau recommends employers contact medical providers listed on work excuse documents in order to confirm their veracity. Supervisors should also take note of inconsistencies in font and spacing, or signs a document has been computer edited. And companies should review legitimate excuse letters health care providers have previously given to employees, in order to be aware of the typical format and structure used by medical providers.
While not commenting on any specific FBI report, a bureau spokesperson told CNN that “the FBI regularly shares this type of information that we assess as important, and we also respond to requests from our private sector partners for information on specific topics.”
The incident outlined in the FBI report issued this week is one in a series of alleged recent scams by employees pretending to have the novel coronavirus.
An 18-year-old McDonald’s employee was arrested last month in Canada and charged by authorities after allegedly producing a fake doctor’s note to her boss, claiming she had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The restaurant remained closed for several days while professional cleaning services worked to sanitize the store,” according to Ontario police. “There has been a significant impact on the restaurant, local customers and employees which instigated the need for police involvement.”
Last month, a South Carolina man was arrested and faces state charges after police say he similarly submitted fake documentation to his employer, indicating he contracted COVID-19. The call center where he worked was shut down for five days while the facility was disinfected.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright told to CNN affiliate WSPA that it “seems to me like the fellow just wanted a two-week paid vacation.”