OTTUMWA — It’s understandable that people are rattled by the rapid developments related to the COVID-19 outbreak and steps being taken to slow the virus’ spread. Scammers are hoping that means you’ll let down your guard.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office is warning people to be on guard. There are currently several approaches for scammers that residents should watch for.
Some are promoting bogus treatments or cures for COVID-19. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are currently no approved vaccines, drugs or products that treat or prevent the virus. A number of companies have been sent letters by federal authorities warning against promoting their products as such.
Other scammers are hoping to trick you into going to infected websites disguised as official ones. Emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization or other experts can contain links that will take you to pages that have computer viruses.
People should not click on links from unknown sources and should instead go directly to those organizations’ websites. The website for the CDC is www.cdc.gov, while the World Health Organization is at www.who.int.
Fake charities are also being set up to take advantage of people’s willingness to help others. Research any organization or charity that claims to be raising money for victims through groups like the Beter Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
In general, people should be skeptical of any request for personal information, including Social Security numbers or login information for accounts. Government agencies will not seek such information via email, and people should not give their information to such requests.
Many scams originate in other countries and may have spelling or grammatical errors that belie the scammer’s unfamiliarity with the English language. They will also often have generic greetings like “Dear sir or madam,” rather than names. Don’t click on links from emails that have errors or generic greetings.
Scammers often try to create the need for an immediate decision, demanding that people act quickly to take advantage of their fraudulent offers. Resist that pressure and delete the messages.
Miller is also warning against price gouging in Iowa, which is defined as raising prices unreasonably above the price of items or services compared to what they were sold for immediately prior to an emergency declaration. It also applies to a subsequent recovery period of up to six months.
Consumers can report price gouging at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov.