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RIAG: Beware COVID-19 Price Gouging, Scams

RI Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.
The RI Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.

PROVIDENCE — Attorney General Peter Neronha warns Rhode Island residents to watch out for scams including relief checks or price gouging stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Call, e-mails, or text messages promising federal aid checks and seeking upfront payment, bank account information, social security numbers or other personally identifiable information are scams, Neronha warned. Individuals should not share personally identifiable information in response to these solicitations.

“The checks do not exist yet. If you receive a message promising you that money, it’s a scam,” said Attorney General Neronha. “These are challenging times and many people could use some relief. Unfortunately, there are scammers who will try and take advantage of people in need. If you see it, call us. The more information we get from the public, the more we can get the word out to help others.”

The RIAG consumer protection team has received complaints from Rhode Islanders who have received text messages urging them to click on a link to receive their “$1,000 assistance check” or e-mails with the subject line “COVID-19 PANDEMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE.” When consumers click on the link or open the e-mail, they are asked to provide personal information, including bank account and social security numbers, to get their check.

If you see these scams or think you have been the victim of a scam, contact our Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400, consumers@riag.ri.gov, or fill out an online complaint form.

 The FTC has issued the following guidelines for consumers to keep in mind:

  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.
  • The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does so is a scammer.
  • Financial assistance to individuals and families has not yet been authorized. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

This is just the latest scam to emerge during this time of uncertainty. The RIAG offers this additional guidance for protecting against scams and fraud:

“These are unique and uncertain circumstances,” said Neronha. “The focus here has to be on public health, not profit. This Office is going to make sure people have access to the goods and services they need to minimize the threat from this public health emergency. Our commitment, as always, remains keeping Rhode Islanders safe.”

Many consumer questions have emerged as a result of the public health emergency, from health insurance considerations to what to do about canceled ticketed events. The AG’s office is ready to help consumers navigate these issues or connect you to an agency that can.

 Price Gouging Is Illegal In Rhode Island

Businesses are prohibited from increasing the price of any essential commodity to an “unconscionably high price” immediately before or during a declared state of emergency. This practice is known as price gouging and it is illegal in Rhode Island.

If you notice or suspect price gouging, or think you have been a victim, contact our Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400 or fill out an online complaint form.

Travel Plans During the Outbreak

Have a trip planned and think you may want to cancel? We advise that you reach out to your travel provider. Many companies have cancelled trips and are providing refunds. Others have relaxed their cancellation policies in the wake of the COVID-19 situation.

You can also reach out to our Consumer Protection Unit at 401-274-4400 to find out additional options.

Common emergency scams

  • Be vigilant! Don’t click on links in unsolicited e-mails. Always verify the source.
  • Be wary of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). These organizations will not be contacting you directly. Visit www.cdc.org or www.who.org for health-related information.
  • There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Any offer promising a vaccination is a scam.
  • Thoroughly check out any charity or organization seeking donations for COVID-19 related causes. Someone asking for donations – particularly in cash, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards – to help victims of COVID-19, or for “research” into finding a vaccine or cure, is likely a scammer.
  • Look out for scam “investment opportunities.” The U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued an investor alert. Before making any type of investment regarding stock in any company, you should contact a legitimate investment company.
  • Beware of online or unsolicited calls or emails from individuals posing as government officials, insurance adjustors or healthcare representatives. Do not provide personal information (such as social security number, date of birth, etc.) to any unsolicited callers.

If you think you have been the victim of a scam, contact our Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400 or fill out an online complaint form.

Additional steps the AG is taking:

  • We continue to monitor and stay apprised of state efforts
  • Our consumer protection team is ready to answer inquiries via phone or email
  • We are prepared to investigate bad actors who are scamming consumers or price gouging
  • Out of an abundance of caution, we are suspending all Office public events (non-court related) throughout the month of March and will assess going forward.

For health-related questions and concerns, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ or health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019 for local information.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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