State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, along with the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Louisville office and an official with the Better Business Bureau said Monday that calls of scams, price gouging and deceptive practices related to the coronavirus are a major concern in Kentucky, as investigators have been faced with bogus testing sites in Louisville and reports of scam calls related to coronavirus stimulus funds.
Cameron said Monday the Attorney General’s Office has received about 100 calls reporting scams, along with “over 2,400 price gouging complaints.”
“Two hundred and 10 (calls) were from western Kentucky,” Cameron said. “We are all hands on deck in this office to respond to those.”
Scams are commonplace when things are relatively normal, but the coronavirus pandemic has caused a multitude of scams to flourish. Scammers are claiming to have cures and treatments, are pretending to be charities involved in COVID-19 response and are claiming to sell personal protective equipment.
Some scammers are even calling and claiming to be medical service providers, demanding “payment” for providing COVID-19 treatment to one of the victim’s relatives or friends, according to the FBI.
Mindy Eaton, director of communications and marketing for the Better Business Bureau in Louisville, said the office has received reports of scammers claiming to help people receive either federal stimulus checks from the coronavirus bill recently approved by Congress, or offering to help businesses obtain one of the small business loans that were part of the bill.
“There are already people getting calls” from scammers claiming to be government officials,” Eaton said Monday. “... They are saying they are with the government, and in order to process your check, (they) need your Social Security number or bank information.”
Scammers are also asking for money, to be paid up front, to cover the “taxes” on the stimulus funds, Eaton said. The government is not calling people about federal stimulus checks.
“They’re a little busy right now,” Eaton said. Likewise, the government is not emailing people about how to receive a stimulus check or a coronavirus cure.
There have been reports of scammers trying to target potentially vulnerable populations, such as Hispanics, with offers to help them receive their stimulus checks, Eaton said.
If you are originally from another country, “how are you supposed to know how (the system for distributing stimulus funds) works?” Eaton said. “... We know it’s going around.”
On price gouging, Cameron said, the office has responded to complaints of people attempting to sell personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves at unreasonable prices. In one case, a group of people from Tennessee were forced to give up PPE they had purchased in Kentucky for resale. The items were distributed to Kentucky agencies such as law enforcement, Cameron said.
Price gouging is a civil offense in Kentucky, punishable on the first offense with a $5,000 fine. Subsequent fines can be up to $10,000, Cameron said.
“What we’ve encouraged Kentuckians to do is, when you see something, say something,” Cameron said.
Robert Brown, special agent in charge for the FBI’s Louisville office, said beyond traditional scams, there have been attempts at extortion from scammers threatening to infect the victim with COVID-19 unless a ransom is paid.
“Threats to infect someone with COVID-19 go beyond fraud,” Brown said.
The fake testing sites reported in Louisville last week were quickly shut down after reports were made to law enforcement. Red flags of a fake testing site include the workers not wearing personal protective equipment, not being affiliated with a reputable hospital and demanding cash in exchange for tests.
“If they are clearly not connected to a state entity (or hospital), it’s probably fraudulent,” Brown said.
Kentucky recently established a joint federal and state coronavirus fraud task force made up of Cameron’s office, the FBI and U.S. Attorneys for eastern and western Kentucky.
“Kentucky is ahead of other states” in having a task force on coronavirus fraud, Brown said, adding that even he has received scam calls from people claiming to be government officials.
“The CDC is not calling and asking for your credit card number,” Brown said.
Cameron said people who receive calls from alleged charities should check into the organization. The Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau websites have resources to check out businesses and charities.
“Ask very probing questions about the entities you’re dealing with at this time,” Cameron said, “because there are some savvy bad actors out there who will do anything they can to take advantage of Kentuckians.”
Brown said law enforcement will take scam investigations seriously.
“We definitely want criminals to know Kentucky is not open for business” to scams, Brown said.
Reports of scams can be made to the Attorney General’s Office at 888-432-9257.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse