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By Phil Esbenshade
Executive Assistant District Attorney Kings County 

Beware of Local COVID-19 Scams

 

Last updated 7/24/2020 at 4:43pm | View PDF



Numerous new and creative frauds and scams have emerged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fraudsters feed off the of the concern and uneasiness of the disease due to the current absence of a cure or vaccine.

Unfortunately, it is all too common for scammers to take advantage of the anxiety associated with emergency situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s take a look at just some of the scams that have been hitting close to home in recent months.

Central Valley COVID-19 Scams

Recently, across the Central Valley and neighboring areas, scammers are trying to reach consumers via phone, email, text and through social media. Scammers often cite legitimate government organizations or well-known charities in these unsolicited communications.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, California has by far the highest number of reported COVID-19 scam complaints.

Beyond scams, people are also concerned about price gouging, especially regarding sought after items like toilet tissue, sanitizing wipes and bottled water.

Fortunately, we have only dealt with two reports of potential price gouging cases in Kings County and in both instances, the increased prices were not the fault of the store owners, but were instead due to the wholesaler’s increased cost in providing the item to the retailer.

Promises of Healthcare Items

Although online and telephonic scams are the most common, scammers as close as Los Angeles have approached seniors in grocery store parking lots, requesting Medicare numbers and personal information, promising delivery of masks or hand sanitizer.

This is a classic example of something that is too good to be true, and such “cold” approaches are inconsistent with government and agency services. No CDC staff, nor any Medicare personnel employ folks to approach people in public requesting such information. Steer clear.

Gift Card Donations

Another novel tactic during the pandemic has been to request the purchase of gift cards for certain services such as food delivery for seniors and those confined to their homes.

Just to the west of us, many San Luis Obispo seniors recently received telephone calls purporting to be from the county, requesting gift card donations for food offered through that county’s free food and prescription program for seniors and self-isolating residents.

It is important to know that a government agency would never request that anyone who receives services purchase gift cards to pay for those services.

The Kings County Commission on Aging, which oversees the local Meals on Wheels program, does indeed welcome donations, but would never request any type of payment in the form of gift cards over the telephone. Donations may be made via a secure portal on the program website.

Donations are a wonderful way to assist the needy in times of crisis, but it’s important to be certain that your money is going to the right place. Use extreme caution donating to anyone on the other end of an unsolicited telephone call.

Ask for a website address or telephone number, and verify the organization via websites such as Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) or Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org) , and call them back.

If anyone calls asking you to purchase or donate to any cause or service by purchasing a gift card, view the request as very suspicious. It’s more than likely a ruse to separate you from your money.

Home Test Kit Scams

Telephone scams comprise the majority of area reports over the last few months. Be aware that cell phone numbers are frequently available on the internet, often times with the caller’s name listed alongside the number.

Originating numbers are quite easy to mask these days, and scammers correctly assume that folks are more likely to answer when the caller ID shows a local 559 area code.

Calls requesting social security numbers and street addresses have been recently reported, with the caller saying that they work for a “National health insurance program working with Medicare” to distribute COVID-19 tests to seniors.

As noted above, if you receive such a call, check with your county public health department to see if any additional testing procedures have been added. Central Valley County Public Health Departments will always have the latest information on testing sites, testing availability and testing protocols.

Tulare County maintains a list of testing sites, none of which include home testing as of this writing. Kings County Public Health likewise maintains a continuously updated list of testing sites, with an online testing appointment process.

As with Tulare County, Kings County Public Health Director Ed Hill reports that there are no home testing options through providers at this time, and no request for a social security number would ever be made over the telephone.

Bottom line: Anyone calling you with COVID-19 home testing options should be suspect. Verify any health care testing providers with your county public health department, and never provide personal information over the telephone.

Stimulus Check Scams

If false promises of test kits and healthcare items weren’t bad enough, a new fraud has begun to rear its ugly head on the economic side of the pandemic.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on the economy, including the incomes of millions of Californians.

Emails have been received by many, purported to be from the IRS, asking the recipient to click a link in order to view the status of their stimulus check. Of course, after clicking the link, the email requests banking account numbers and other personal information.

Federal authorities have confirmed that, though emails look official, the IRS would never contact anyone via electronic mail for personal or banking information, so simply delete those emails without opening them.

Protecting your health and the health of your loved ones should be your primary concern as we move forward through unprecedented times.

Before you click on a link in any email, take a second first. Do some research and ask yourself if that email, text message is legitimate or whether it seems fishy.

Use extreme caution over the phone with anyone who calls you with offers or requests for personal or financial information.

We live in very fortunate times, where the ability to verify information is literally just a click away.

Be safe, stay healthy and be skeptical.

 

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