Village warns residents about COVID-19 scammers

Federal government looking out for scammers, hoarders, price gougers

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By Maria Maxham

How about playing some COVID-19 Scam Bingo while you're home social-distancing?

Technically, it's called "FTC Scam Bingo," and it's one way the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is helping spread the message about scammers taking advantage of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like a traditional bingo card, there are squares to check off. "COVID-19 cure!" is one. "Lower your debt" is another. "Get free gov't money" reads a third. These are all examples of click-bait or dishonest email schemes or phone calls someone might receive from a potential scammer.

The FTC bingo card is available online here: consumer.ftc.gov/sites/www.consumer.ftc.gov/files/scam-bingo-v4.pdf.

A humorous way to get the word out through hashtags and sharing on social media that scammers are a big problem during emergencies like this one, it's also highlighting an important message. And the federal and local governments are taking steps to warn people that there are those out there trying to take advantage of others during times of crisis.

The village of Forest Park wants to ensure that residents are not taken advantage of by scammers trying to make money during the COVID-19 crisis.

Chief of Police Tom Aftanas sent a memo to all residents on March 31, warning of potential scams and providing information on what to do if you think you've been a victim of a scammer.

Scams are often done through email, phone or by door-to-door solicitors.

"No solicitors will be allowed to go door to door during this pandemic. If you observe individuals going door to door please call 911," states the memo.

The memo also references the FTC website at consumer.ftc.gov, which has more information regarding common scams related to the pandemic. It also has information about how to report a scammer or file a claim if you are a victim.

Tips provided by the website include:

  • Hang up on robocalls. Do not press numbers or provide any personal information.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There are no FDA-authorized test kits for coronavirus.
  • Fact-check information related to coronavirus or COVID-19 before passing the information to others.
  • Know who you are buying from. Online sellers claim to have in-demand products when they really don't.
  • Do not respond to texts or emails about checks from the government.
  • Don't click on links from sources you don't know.
  • Watch out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or experts claiming to have information about the virus.
  • Do research before making any donations. Don't let anyone rush you into making a donation. Never agree to send cash, gift cards or wire money.
  • As a result of the virus, keep in mind that tax season has been extended until July 15, 2020. Do not provide information over the phone. The IRS does not call and demand immediate payment of delinquent taxes and threaten individuals with arrest. If in doubt, hang up and verify with the IRS at IRS.gov or call 1-800-829-1040.

"If you have any uncertainty about an email, phone call, social media solicitation, or a solicitor knocking on your door simply hang up the phone, do not respond to emails and do not answer the door," states the memo from Aftanas.

Residents can call the Forest Park Police Department at 708-366-2425 with concerns. They can also go to consumer.ftc.gov for more information about scams.

More information is also available from the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice's Criminal Division "dedicated to improving the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of criminal conduct related to natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19)," according to the center's website. The hotline is 1-866-720-5721, or they can be reached by email at disaster@leo.gov.

Additionally, the federal government is taking a hard approach to hoarding and price-gouging of necessary items. On March 25 the Department of Health and Human Services prohibited the hoarding of certain health and medical resources, either in excess of what a home or business would need for themselves or for the purpose of reselling at higher than market prices.

These items include N-95 and other masks and filtering equipment, ventilators, drug products with chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine as the active ingredient, disinfecting products, medical gowns, PPE face shields and gloves, and other medical equipment necessary for the treatment of COVID-19. Information and a full list of items citizens and businesses are not allowed to hoard can be found at justice.gov/file/1264276/download.

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