Editorial: Scammers are working overtime during the coronavirus. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself

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Sadly, it seems inevitable that for every catastrophe this country faces, there are lowlifes that crawl out of the woodwork to try to take advantage.

This pandemic is no exception. But it’s particularly pernicious now when the whole country is in a collective fight for our health and so many of us are struggling through a shuttered economy.

Law enforcement agencies tell us that thieves are working overtime. In this moment of crisis, when we’re at our most vulnerable, scammers are aggressively trying to take more from us.

It’s a sad commentary that we’ve become accustomed to this element of our society. Right now, though, if they are successful, they direct resources away from the focus on activities that will help us get back to normal.

If there’s some encouraging news in this situation, it’s that U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox tells us that the Department of Justice, along with state and local officials, are on to these criminals. They’re working just as hard and aggressively to root them out and prosecute them.

“It’s particularly egregious because the whole world is dealing with this crisis,” Nealy Cox told us. “To add to that the possibility that you could be victimized — it’s horrible. It’s adding to worries for folks who already have enough to worry about.”

The best defense to avoid being taken advantage of? Arm yourself with information and report incidents to authorities.

The feds are seeing cases in two buckets: COVID-19-specific cases and those that are emerging now that federal stimulus money is starting to flow.

Here are a few of the most common cases they’re seeing:

—Phony companies making claims about their fake products, such as test kits and treatments.

—Price gouging and hoarding.

—Fake mobile testing sites that take people’s money but administer fraudulent screenings.

—Websites claiming to provide stimulus funds when consumers enter in their bank account numbers.

—Unsolicited callers claiming to be from the IRS threatening people with jail for back taxes if they don’t provide their bank accounts and other information for payments.

The last one should raise red flags immediately. Nealy Cox reminds that the IRS is never going to call, email or text threats to you in this manner.

An IRS fraud office has been set up in the federal courthouse in Dallas to investigate these cases. And because these bands of miscreants work across state lines, there’s a National Center for Disaster Fraud to try to combat them.

We’re glad authorities are actively trying to prosecute these scofflaws. It’s possible to put a dent in their activities. Still, it’s a shame that we have to deal with these folks on top of everything else. They erode trust, and trust is a precious commodity right now.

Report fraud related to this crisis to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline by calling 1-866-720-5721. You can also reach out by email at disaster@leo.gov.


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