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Scammers rampant during COVID-19 pandemic

Phony websites claiming to sell face masks or fake COVID-19 test kits and emails peddling cures are just a few of the dozens of scams being fielded by law enforcement as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

While scams offering free government money have been around for decades, Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the MidSouth, said the coronavirus has led to an explosion of fraudulent activity in the last few weeks — ever since Congress passed the bill that includes sending emergency payments to most Americans.

“If somebody contacts you in any way — phone call, email, text message, social media — and says, ‘We’re ready to send you your stimulus payment,’ or perhaps a free government grant, and asks you to pay money up front, it is a scam,” he said.

The government will deposit money directly into the bank account you included on your tax return last year or will mail you a check, Hutchinson said, adding that if anyone claiming to be from a government agency asks for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number, they are a scammer.

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The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration also are clamping down on individuals selling unregistered disinfectants and sanitizing products that they claim can kill the new coronavirus, Hutchinson said.

“This action follows on the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration sending warning letters to seven other companies that were selling products they claim could treat and cure coronavirus,” he said.

Some of the products included teas and essential oils. So far, the FTC has said, it has received nearly 8,000 COVID-19-related complaints. Information on emerging scams is online at bbb.org/coronavirus, where you also can file a complaint.

-Story by Nadia Ramlagan, Tennessee Public News Service

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