In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo Attorney General William Barr speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association Winter Legislative and Technology Conference in Washington. Credit: Susan Walsh | AP

The U.S. Department of Justice is ramping up federal prosecutions of virus scammers across the country.

Attorney General William Barr has directed federal prosecutors to prioritize the detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.

Maine’s U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank on Wednesday appointed long-time drug prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Perry, who works in Portland, to serve as the COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator.

Perry will coordinate investigations and prosecutions of crimes related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday took similar steps related to price gouging. She signed an order prohibiting the sale of certain items at “unconscionable prices” during the coronavirus outbreak.

The order targets seven products regarded as necessities during the outbreak: paper products, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, personal hygiene products, medicine and medical supplies, food and water.

That order limits the sale of these products at no more than 15 percent of their price prior to the outbreak, and anyone who does sell them at “unconscionable prices” may face prosecution.

“The coronavirus is already making life difficult enough without bad actors trying to take advantage of Maine people by inflating prices for critical items,” Mills, a Democrat, said in a statement. “With allegations of price-gouging in our state rising, this declaration gives the Office of the Attorney General full authority to investigate price gouging claims and take swift action to address them.”

The state’s top federal prosecutor said that internet scams already are targeting Mainers.

“Criminals are already taking advantage of the anxiety caused by the coronavirus outbreak to peddle fake cures, send phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and install malware on apps designed to track the virus,” Frank said. “This type of fraudulent activity is appalling.”

Individuals who believe they may have been the target of a coronavirus-related fraud scheme can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

More information about coronavirus scams is also available from the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/coronavirus.

Mainers who suspect price gouging may report it at https://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/complaints/index.shtml.