Coronavirus: Emergency is perfect ‘breeding ground for scam artists’

With families in need of donations to survive the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and stimulus checks of $1,000 or more possibly going to help each American adult make ends meet, law enforcement officials and consumer advocates say watch out for scammers looking to cash in on the national emergency.

“This is a breeding ground for scam artists. It’s kind of the perfect storm with all of the tragedies that we have going on across the country and across the world,” said John North, president and CEO of the Dayton and the Miami Valley.

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Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said people have already contacted the office describing calls from scammers purporting to be from the government asking for personal information related to getting funds from a potential federal economic stimulus package.

“The federal government … is not going to call you on the phone and ask for your bank accounts or tell you to bring money somewhere so you can receive these checks,” Streck said. “The scam artists are good at what they do.”

The BBB has received similar stimulus scam reports scattered across the nation before Congress has even approved funding, North said.

“We know this stimulus package is not finalized as of yet. And we know that there are no checks being sent out as of yet,” he said.

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Fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and people’s desire to help loved ones and neighbors in need also provides fertile ground for scammers, said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Yost warns Ohioans to ignore online advertisements promoting cures for the coronavirus and emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other expert sources with special advice or information about the coronavirus.

Legitimate information is available for free on the CDC’s website.

“COVID-19 is not the only thing we have to protect ourselves against,” Yost said. “Thieves and crooks prey on fear and uncertainty. Ohioans need to inoculate themselves against an outbreak of scams with knowledge and good practices.”

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While many use crowdfunding sites to help people through this dire time, it’s also a method easily abused by scammers, North said.

“There may be a family that’s impacted by the coronavirus with medical expenses piling up,” he said. “We recommend in situations like this, make sure you know the details. Make sure you know the person directly or know they are a friend of a friend so you can be sure that the money is going to the cause you want to support.”

While tax deadlines have been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic, taxpayers should go ahead and complete their returns as soon as possible – especially if a refund is due, North said.

“There are still those scam artists that are out there that are filing phony taxes on your behalf,” he said. “This is something that happens year after year.”

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