Consumer and law enforcement officials are warning people to be on the alert for potential COVID-19 scams.
Sheryl Harris, director of Consumer Affairs for Cuyahoga County, said people should be cautious when they get emails, texts or social media posts from anyone claiming to be a COVID-19 contact tracer. Legitimate contact tracers work with infected people to get names and phone numbers of everyone with whom they came into contact. But the contact tracer will not ask for personal information like a Social Security number, or bank account or credit card numbers.
“Scammers are very opportunistic and look for people to prey on,” Harris said. “The Cuyahoga County Board (of Health) is contacting people and calling them to complete the contract tracing. But they never will ask you for money or for information which gives them access to your money or personal information. If they do, they’re trying to scam you.”
People should not click on links or respond to texts saying they have been exposed to COVID-19. The links allow the scammer to access the victim’s computer and personal information contained in it.
The county had not had any calls as of Friday morning, Harris said, but said there have been some in Michigan.
“We’re trying to be proactive and warn people,” Harris said. “If you have any questions, or believe something is suspicious, you can contact us at the county.”
Suspicious calls or texts to http://ConsumerAffairs.CuyahogaCounty.US or call 216-443-SCAM. (7226).
The Cleveland Division of the FBI has been on alert for potential scams and other COVID-19 related crimes, said Special Agent Vickie Anderson-Gregg.
“There have been some schemes where people claim to have a cure,” Anderson-Gregg said. “The FDA hasn’t found one yet. Others claim to have test kits or even charities helping people with the virus. People need to be suspicious of any unsolicited contact about the virus. People need to find an independent way to verify that a person or agency is legitimate.”
There have been instances elsewhere in the United States where people have tried hoarding facial masks and charging exorbitant prices for them, Anderson-Gregg said.
“Individuals like that will always try and take advantage of other people,” she said. “They will target people who are vulnerable.”
Fairview Park police Lt. Paul Shepard said older people are often targeted.
“Older people are more likely to have a landline and will pick up the phone and talk to these people, who are very smooth in their approach to get money and personal information from people,” Shepard said. “They also are more likely to trust someone they see as an authority figure or who presents themselves, like police or a medical person. Younger people are often more suspicious about what they hear or read.”
People need to remember that no government agency will ask for payment in gift cards, he said.
“We still see a lot of that,” Shepard said. “People from a legitimate agency are never going to take payments in gift cards for any actual bill, medical or otherwise.”
Avon police spokesman Jim Drozdowski said scammers know many older people are concerned about health issues.
“People should check with their regular health care professionals or someone in the police,” Drozdowski said. “We’ll talk to people about anything suspicious and if need be an officer will go to them or meet them to deal with their concerns about anything which might be illegal.”
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