Scammers taking advantage during the coronavirus crisis

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - It’s in major disasters like hurricanes and floods that we see scams start to arise and this pandemic is no different.

ABC57 spoke to Indiana Attorney General, Curtis Hill, and officials at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to get some insights.

Both the BBB and Hill said scammers are using this time to prey on the weak and those stuck at home because of coronavirus concerns.

“We are seeing that the scammers are ready to capitalize on the coronavirus,” Nichole Thomas, Director of Communications at BBB serving Northern Indiana said. “We’ve seen quite an uptick in scam reports I’d say from mid-March to now.”

“We’re seeing an increase in calls, now many of those calls are questions, many of those calls are information on price-gouging,” AG Curtis Hill said. “We’re seeing an entire range of things that are designed to pray on people's fears and concerns.”

Tax season normally brings an increase in scam reports, but the pandemic is causing those numbers to soar.

Typical scams include fake online COVID-19 tests or even so-called cures, promised advances on your stimulus check, tricking senior citizens into handing over their money, as well as plain old price-gouging.

“We’re seeing scams related to identifying testing that people can do home test kits for coronavirus that to our knowledge don’t exist yet,” AG Hill said.

“Before the stimulus had even passed in the House and the Senate, we were seeing people getting scammed out of money because they received an email, text or social media message saying ‘hey we can get your stimulus faster just pay this fee’,” Thomas said.

That’s why there are tips to not make yourself vulnerable to scammers.

Top of the list is to make sure you do not click any link from a person you don’t know, whether it be through email, calls or texts. Officials at the BBB say that once you fall for a scam, you could potentially be flagged as an easy target.

“The scam ring is huge out there. There’s always someone looking to make a quick buck and so that’s what’s going on with the coronavirus,” Thomas said.

She said scammers started taking advantage of coronavirus fears on day 1. Reports spiking as cases continue to rise in the U.S.

But there are ways to make sure you don’t become a victim.

The biggest advice is to do your research and don’t give out information to just anyone.

“Make sure to ask as many questions as you can think of because you want to protect yourself and the moment that you provide any financial information there’ really the liability stems on you,” Thomas said. “If they are a legitimate company or have a legitimate service then they are going to be happy to answer all of the questions you might have.”

“It’s basic common sense in the sense that if it sounds too good to be true it often is. Use caution and verify it. Just verify any information that is coming in and there’s usually not an opportunity to get something for nothing,” Hill said.

Luckily, officials at both the St Joseph County and South Bend Police Departments say they have not received any calls as of yet regarding scammers.

It could be because no one is reporting it or that there will be more in the coming weeks once relief checks are being sent out.

If you do end up needing to file a report, you can report it to your local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau at 317-488-2222 or the Indiana Attorney General's office, Consumer Protection Division at 317-232-6330.

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