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While schools and businesses are closed and everyone is practicing social distancing in an attempt to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), there is one group that is hard at work—scammers. Seeing an opportunity to take advantage in growing numbers, scammers are both resorting to old tricks and creatively finding new ways to take advantage of vulnerable consumers. So as you hunker down at home to protect yourself from being exposed to COVID-19, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from scams.

Online Phishing Scams

With much of the Commonwealth’s workforce telecommuting, phishing scams are on the rise. Be wary of emails that ask for sensitive data about your company even if the source appears to be from a co-worker. Hackers can clone email addresses and make it appear that colleagues are sending you work-related requests when in fact the email is not legitimate. Emails of this nature may be cleverly written, asking for money, sensitive personnel or financial information, or other privileged work information. If the request being made is unusual or seems otherwise suspicious, make sure you discuss first with your supervisor. You may also want to verify with your work colleague the email was in fact sent by them to you before sharing information.

When working from home always practice these safety tips:

  • Never click a link from an unknown source
  • Never share Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, or other personal information via email or phone
  • Use security software to protect your computer
  • Protect accounts with multi-factor authentication
  • Protect data by backing it up
  • Report phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) @ ftc.gov/complaint, or forward the phishing email to the FTC @ spam@uce.gov.

Price Gouging

As products fly off store shelves and re-stocking continues to lag, there are some unscrupulous individuals who will try to capitalize on material shortages by stockpiling essential items then offering these necessities at extremely high prices. This is known as price gouging. There is no law against price gouging in Massachusetts except in relation to gasoline prices 940 CMR 3.18. However, the Attorney General has the authority under Chapter 93A to police and prosecute “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce” and impose fines of up to $5,000.

To combat this issue across the nation, President Trump signed an executive order giving the federal government the authority to address hoarding that threatens the supply of necessary health and medical resources. The Attorney General’s office in each state is working with the federal government to identify and prosecute those who are perpetrators of price gouging and hoarding with the intent to sell needed items at an inflated cost. In addition, many retailers including Costco, CVS, and Target have begun to limit the sales of key items and to post no-return policies for items such as toilet paper, soap, and disinfectant wipes to dissuade and inhibit price gouging and hoarding.

If you feel that a business is practicing price gouging, report it to the Attorney General’s office by filing a complaint against this vendor.

 Door-to-Door Medical Services

The President has said that “the Justice Department will be aggressively prosecuting fraudulent schemes related to the pandemic.” The fraudsters, however, are undeterred. We have heard of people dressed in lab coats going door-to-door to homes offering residents either Coronavirus testing and/or vaccines. Be wary of strangers who come to your door with such offers. This warning is especially important for seniors at home in isolation, and for children who may be home alone due to school closures, to heed. It is important to note that there is not yet a known cure or vaccine for Coronavirus. Be alert and do not let strangers into your home. Do not give anyone your money, or your personal information such as your Social Security or Medicaid numbers for medical services. No one from the medical community is offering home testing for COVID-19. If you, or someone in your family is feeling ill, call your physician and if he/she feels you are at risk and need to be tested for COVID-19 they will instruct you on where/when to go for testing. If someone matching the above description rings your doorbell, keep your door closed and immediately notify your local police.

 

For the latest updates on Coronavirus/COVID-19, visit mass.gov/COVID19.

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