Fraud schemes related to COVID-19 are on the rise in Florida, as scammers look to take advantage of people in various ways during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is not the time to let down your guard.
As of Monday night, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office had received more than 600 complaints regarding products such as cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and face masks.
“At a time like this, to charge them exorbitant prices for the things they will need to keep their families safe is disgusting and unlawful,” said Moody. “We will continue to pursue them throughout the duration of this crisis.”
Moody is working with federal prosecutors to stop scammers, while businesses caught overcharging consumers face fines of up to $1,000 per violation. Complaints also continue to come into the state’s price-gouging hotline. The scam hotspots include Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties. Scammers likely have been planning since the virus was first announced.
“Exactly; it wasn’t if, but when,” said Tammy Ward with the Better Business Bureau in Pensacola. Much of the attention has been how to provide protective masks for medical personnel and first responders. That’s one the scams to be leery of.
“Scammers are actually feeding on the panic and the fear of consumers,” Ward said. “And so they’re putting out a fake website and telling you that you can purchase these face masks and things like that. And all you have to do is put in your credit card or your debit card information.”
There are also websites which claim that they have the “cure” for coronavirus, through a pill or an injection. Ward says at this point, there is no cure – or vaccine – for COVID-19.
“We’re just begging consumers to not click on something and put in their personal information, because there is not a cure right now,” said Ward. “And if the CDC and the other government officials don’t have it, then a website is not going to have it.
And it’s not just on social media. Scammers are also working the phones, looking for unsuspecting targets.
“There’s an endless supply of fear and panic that they’ll set in on the person answering the phone,” said Ward. “And they may get you to say something you don’t want to, and give up some kind of personal information. So if you don’t recognize the number, as with other scams, please don’t answer the phone.”
Another coronavirus scam just now getting started involves the so-called economic bailout. A deal on Capitol Hill may be close for a nearly $2 trillion package to help businesses and workers.
“We don’t know what that might entail, but the scammers have already started calling people or sending things through social media; click here to get your $1,000, to get your whatever,” said Ward. “And nothing has actually come out. Don’t click on something that says you’re going to get your money – just provide us with this or that.”
Bottom line, says the BBB’s Tammy Ward, is that the same common sense protecting you against COVID-19, can be used to protect yourself against COVID-19 scams.
“Follow the guidelines that are coming out of the city, state, or county; don’t panic, don’t go to a store and try to take all the sanitizer that you can find,” Ward said. “Just the normal things; [actually] a little bit above normal of the current situation that we’re in.”
Consumers who suspect price-gouging can call the hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM or by downloading the NO SCAM app to a smartphone. Information on other scams can be found at www.bbb.org.