What You Need To Know: To Avoid Coronavirus Scams

Mar 30, 2020

Georgia Public Broadcasting’s new series What You Need To Know: Coronavirus provides succinct, fact-based information to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic with your health and sanity intact. 

Georgia's Attorney General, Chris Carr, spoke with Rickey Bevington, host of GPB's All Things Considered, about scams amid the coronavirus outbreak and steps residents can take to ensure they are protected.

What are the top scams that you are seeing right now as a result of this virus?

Well, unfortunately, most have to do with whether there's a cure for coronavirus, whether there's a vaccine for coronavirus, testing. We've even seen folks that are trying to go door to door. So mostly it has to do with that. And there is not a cure yet. There's not a vaccine. We're working on it. But those are scams. And we encourage people to go to new sources, go to websites where the information is accurate. You're in control of the transaction. Don't let a scammer make the situation even worse.

It's astonishing that people would be preying on fears right now. How many people are being victimized?

Well, it's shameful and unfortunately, when you've got the internet, when you got text, criminals are smart about it and they can send it far and wide. So you don't know exactly how many folks there are, but there's a lot of them.

But the important thing is to do two things. One, get information out there so folks can protect themselves and know that they're scams. One of the other scams that we saw was Congress is debating the bill now on $1,000, which actually is $1,200. That will go to individuals up to $70,000 in income. Well, people are getting texts. The government doesn't reach out to you by text, so don't click on that link. It's a scam. They're trying to take your money or they're trying to take your personal information on you.

You told me just a few minutes ago, before we were recording, that the number of complaints has gone up. Are we talking about hundreds of complaints, thousands of complaints? What is your office getting right now?

Well, as it relates to price gouging, and our price gouging laws are in effect since Gov. Kemp signed the order on the public health emergency, and we've seen about 300 complaints come in and it's everything from food and water to toilet paper and hand sanitizer and disinfectant. In fact, I think you were seeing just a little bit of an increase on the food side of things, particularly commodities, eggs and meat in particular. And we look into each and every one of those complaints. We send a letter to each company or individual that is cited. And then if it if need be, we go, and we investigate even further. But we're looking into each and every one. And if you violate Georgia's price gouging law, it is a $2,000 to $15,000 fine for each and every violation.

You know, we all want to think that we're savvy and that we [wouldn't] be victimized by these scam artists. But the truth is, any American can be vulnerable. There are people, populations that are especially vulnerable. Who are those people there in our families? Who should we be reaching out to say, "Hey, be careful right now?" 

Well, Rickey, that's exactly right. Anybody can be scammed. But we certainly know criminals will target, just on an average day, those in our older population or that are vulnerable. But right now, we have folks in the high risk category. And so when we see older individuals that are being targeted by these cures or the vaccines or the products, I consider that almost that's elder abuse. And we're going to treat it as elder abuse. And as I said before, it's absolutely shameful. But [for] anybody, this is a highly emotional time. In our nation's history, there's a lot of uncertainty and the criminals know that, and they are trying to capitalize on that. So I say you are in control of your transaction.

Be very wary of anybody who has sent you information that you didn't ask for the text, email, a phone call or door to door shut the door closed out of the email, closed out of the text and go to the website of that entity and see if there's actually something to it.

Go to the CDC website or department of public health or coronavirus.gov or the Governor's Task Force if it has to do with a product. Go to the Georgia Department of Law at Consumer.ga.gov. Look on that website. Let us know if something doesn't look right because right now we got to arm us. We're going to play defense, arm ourselves with information. Be vigilant. But for those that are doing wrong, let us know and let us play offense. Let us go after people.

So if people see potential violations, they should report it to the Attorney General's office.

Absolutely. They can call 404-651-8600 or go to our website at consumer.ga.gov.

I think I'm going to repeat what you were just saying-that all of us-we are in control of the transaction. That's important to remember.

That's exactly right. And whether it's now or whether... Unfortunately, there are scams that we have to deal with all the time. But at the end of the day, you are in control of your transaction. Don't give up your money. Don't give up your personal information unless you know exactly that person is who they say they are or that entity is legitimate. And the way you know is you pick up the phone, you go to the website, you initiate the email, it's all in your control.