AG warns of new 'heartless' coronavirus scams, new bill targets gougers

North Carolina’s top consumer watchdog is warning about new and “heartless” coronavirus scams.

“There are heartless crooks out there who will exploit anything to try to steal your money and your personal information,” said Attorney General Josh Stein.

Scammers are finding new ways to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new complaints received by Stein’s office.

FOX 46 reviewed several text messages received by Stein’s office that were sent by scammers and designed to prey on fears:

  • In one text, scammers pretended to be from the US Department of Health and Human Services: “Please take this MANDATORY online COVID-19 preparation test by 3/25.”
  • In another text, scammers offered up phony insurance with a message designed to look like it came from a loved one: “Good evening Honey. With recent events surrounding the Corona Virus (COVID-19). It is vital to lock in an insurance plan before it’s too late. It is also important to make sure you have a PPO plan so that you don’t have to go to state hospitals. There is currently a $0 deductible $0 co-pay.”
  • Another text message claimed to sell critical life-saving medical equipment: “Coronavirus Respirator Mask: Back In Stock.”
  • Another text offered up supposed tips to protect yourself: “Corona Virus Update: Steps you can take to avoid infection.”

In each case, the victims are directed to click on a link that will likely ask them for their bank account or personal information. It is all part of a cruel ruse designed to steal their money and identity, according to Stein.

“Crooks are heartless and people need to know that and be very suspicious,” said Stein, who says scammers are reaching out through texts, email, phone calls and social media. “Folks just need to be very careful.”

On Facebook, a Miami resident warned about yet another coronavirus scam.

“I just got a very legit-sounding voicemail from a lady saying: ‘Hello, this is Nurse Jen calling to follow up on your tests from yesterday,’” the man recounted. “‘Unfortunately you DID test positive for coronavirus. No need to panic, but call us back with your credit card handy so we can overnight you your antibiotics. It’s important that you and any family or roommates STAY HOME. Call us so we can get your meds and give you further quarantine instructions.”

“Be aware this bull---- is happening, in case any older or otherwise vulnerable relatives or friends get this call,” the man warned. “Gahhhhh, people are the worst.”

FOX 46 reached out to the man who posted the warning on Facebook post but did not immediately hear back.

Stein says his office was forwarded the message and is taking it seriously.

“I mean that’s just terrible at every level because, one, it creates fear that the person is sick,” said Stein in a video call with FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant on Tuesday. “And, two, there is no antibiotic for coronavirus. There is no cure yet.”

Stein’s office has also received reports of crooks going door-to-door in neighborhoods selling fake coronavirus testing kits and cleaning supplies. This could be a scam or an excuse to get into your home and rob you or commit other criminal acts, Stein said.

Nobody, from any health agency, is going door-to-door selling testing kits.

“The bottom line is most people are good and most people want to help but there are always going to be some greedy people who try to steal your money,” said Stein. “Be suspicious. If you have any questions, do not give over your personal information or your money. Call my office.”

To report a scam, you are urged to call (877) 5-NO-SCAM.

Report potential price gouging at ncdoj.gov/gouging

Stein’s office recommends:

  • Don’t open the door if you don’t know the visitor.
  • There are no door-to-door coronavirus testing options. No one from the Centers for Disease Control, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, or any other health agency will come to your home to offer to provide tests for a charge. If you are concerned about any medical symptoms you have, you should call your health care provider or local health department for guidance.
  • Be skeptical of people selling miracle cures, including vaccinations and medications. If you are unsure about a product, check with a doctor before you buy it. Don’t let anyone rush you. Walk away from high-pressure pitches and cure-all promises. The best way to protect yourself is by taking common-sense health precautions.
  • Take a moment before you buy in-demand items like hand sanitizers, face masks, cleaning products, or groceries. Don’t overstock on supplies you may not need. Before you make a purchase, check with your doctor to confirm whether you actually need it. Check company/product reviews before you buy.
  • North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect, which makes it illegal to charge too much during a crisis.  

New Bill Targets Price Gougers

On Tuesday, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced a bill that goes after price gougers.

The bill, called “The Ending Price-Gouging During Emergencies Act,” seeks to punish individuals who try to rip off Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the proposal, during a state of national emergency, anyone who sells critically needed items for an amount that “grossly exceeds” the average price, would face fines up to 10 times the amount made in profit.

“We’ve gotten reports from doctors, from healthcare facilities and individuals, that they’re paying five and 10 times for products today than they were a month ago,” said Tillis. “We think that’s inappropriate so we [introduced] a bill that’s going to allow the federal government and state governments to more aggressively go after price gougers.”

This would allow gougers to be prosecuted at the federal level and gives states to “step up penalties.”

“The message should be clear,” said Tillis. “Do not take advantage of the health care professionals that are working hard to keep people safe, do not take advantage of individuals who are trying to keep their families safe because if you do, you’re going to be held accountable.”