While concerns regarding the coronavirus continues to spread, con artists are increasingly seeking ways to employ scare tactics and defraud Oklahomans.
Some of the most common scams have involved robocalls — which Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant said there have been local reports of. Many times the calls will be a recorded message making fraudulent offers and pitching products such as free respirator masks, coronavirus treatments and more.
Scams have come in many different forms over the course of the pandemic, ranging from promises of a free testing kit delivered overnight to your home to the IRS needing a bank account number to deposit checks from the government.
According to a March 24 press release from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has received over 130 complaints in relation to the coronavirus since the national emergency was declared on March 13.
Bryant listed several other scams law enforcement have come across and that individuals should watch out for, including phishing emails asking for money, miracle health claims such as immunity pills or antibiotics, charity and donation scams, free testing kit scams, health insurance or medicare fraud and fake apps and websites, among other things.
“You’ve got people out there who don’t have anything better to do but prey on people that are vulnerable,” Bryant said. “They’re using a scare tactic for these folks to scare them into doing something and telling them the worse case scenario.”
One of the easiest ways to avoid robocalls and scam-related phone calls is to not answer phone calls from an unknown number, Bryant said. “If somebody is calling you from an unknown number and they want to talk to you about something important they’re going to leave you a message,” he said.
No one should ever give their bank account numbers or personal information, such as a social security number, out over the phone or through email, Bryant said.
“No one should be calling anybody asking them for personal information and if they do, ask for a return phone number,” Bryant said. “That way they can call back and check the validity of it.”
The Federal Trade Commission has also issued a warning against coronavirus scams, providing some tips for individuals to help avoid falling victim to con artists during the pandemic.
Individuals should ignore all online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. At this time, there are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the coronavirus, according to the FTC.
Individuals should also avoid clicking on links from unknown sources and responding to texts and emails regarding checks from the government. Unknown links could download viruses onto your computer or device.
The FTC also advises individuals to watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or experts saying they have information about the virus. Instead, all up-to-date information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC’s website, at cdc.gov.
Lastly, individuals should research charities or crowdfunding sites before making a donation. Scammers will often ask for donations in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
On March 27, Attorney General Mike Hunter and U.S. Attorney Tim Dowing announced a state-federal partnership to investigate and prosecute individuals using the current crisis for personal profits.
“We anticipate the situation worsening before it gets better. That is why U.S. Attorney Dowing and I have decided to combine our efforts in order to expedite investigations that hold criminals accountable and keep Oklahomans safe,” Hunter said in a press release.
Bryant said the sheriff’s office and local law enforcement are working diligently to put a stop to scams and anyone who encounters any scams or fraud schemes should report it immediately to their local law enforcement. The Carter County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (580) 223-6014.
Reports of fraud can also be made to either the Attorney General’s Office by calling the OAG’s Consumer Protection Unit at (405) 521-2029 or the federal government via the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721.
For more information on coronavirus scams and how to avoid them, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.
“I just want to reiterate to people that people just need to take a step back, be calm, practice good hygiene, and if they have questions we’re more than happy for them to call the sheriff’s office or their local law enforcement to confirm what these actually are,” Bryant said.