Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement agencies are seeing an uptick in the number of scams people are experiencing.
Earlier this month, Emporium-based state police reported “that the amount of scam calls received within our community has increased as a result of the COVID-19 situation.”
For one, scammers have been calling local people from phone numbers that look like Emporium phone numbers in order to make the person answering the phone feel more comfortable, police explained. Callers have identified themselves as representatives of groups such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Internal Revenue Service or the Medicare Assistance Program.
Police said these callers are trying to get personal information.
They advise people never to give information such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit numbers over the phone.
Scams can come by other sources, too.
Denise Continenza, an educator with Penn State Extension’s food, family and health program team, said “Coronavirus scams are popping up everywhere on the internet and through personal email.”
Continenza provided some tips in a press release to stay safe from fraud during this time.
Only buy products such as masks and sanitizer from well-known businesses or businesses you have worked with in the past. Watch out for email offers from unknown businesses, as well as any investment opportunities or low-interest loan offers. Be wary of anyone purporting to sell a vaccine, cure or treatment for COVID-19, too.
When shopping online, make sure the website is secure before sharing personal information. According to Continenza, there should be a small lock icon by the web address, or the letters “https” at the beginning of the address.
“Never give out your personal credit card or account information to a caller if you did not initiate the call,” she said.
Be wary of the source of any virus-related information, and don’t share information from unreliable origins. Continenza recommends sources including Penn State Extension, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A suffix of .org or .edu is an indication that the information is based on science and research and is a reliable source of information,” she stated.
Also, only donate to known charities or causes.
Continenza advises anyone who believes they are a victim of a scam to call local law enforcement. People can file a complaint about a company through the Pennsylvania Department of Bank Services by calling 800-PA-BANKS (800-722-2657).
A Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 Fraud Task Force has been formed to investigate coronavirus-related fraud.
A collaboration by U.S. Attorney Scott Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, state and federal agencies will work together to investigate scams that can include unemployment scams, fake treatments, fake supply shops, fake providers, fake charities, phishing scams, apps that purport to track the spread of the disease that contain malware, investment scams and price gouging scams.
Anyone who believes they are a victim of fraud can contact the task force through a toll free hotline at 1-888-C19-WDPA (1-888-219-9372) or by email at email@example.com. Report price gouging at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up for text scam alerts from the Attorney General’s office at https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/consumer-alerts/