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Officials: Beware COVID-19 scams, price gouging

In times of crisis, there are always those who seek to take advantage of others. During the current outbreak of COVID-19, state and local officials are encouraging the public to be wary of scams, ranging from bogus charities to modern-day snake oil salesmen, as well as price gouging by businesses.

“The advice I would give would be to know who you are dealing with,” said Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose. “Especially if we’re talking about scams on charities and donations, we need to think as locally as we can anyway. If you’re looking to help, know the people you’re dealing with.”

Statewide, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is also encouraging caution in terms of buying medicine, picking up the phone, making donations to charity and opening doors for would-be scammers and thieves selling alleged coronavirus-testing supplies.

“At a time when we should be focusing on taking necessary health precautions and staying safe, some bad actors are focusing on taking people’s hard-earned money,” Stein said. “I want North Carolinians to protect their health and their wallets. If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam or an attempted scam, please report it to my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or ncdoj.gov/complaint.”

The N.C. Attorney General’s office recommends the following:

  • Don’t buy miracle cures — According to health officials, no product exists that will prevent you from getting COVID-19 or cure you if you already have the virus. The best way to protect yourself is by taking commonsense health precautions. Beware of people selling cure-all vaccines, drugs or any other products. Consult with a doctor or health professional before you buy. Remember — if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t fall for robocalls —The N.C. DOJ is seeing reports of robocallers ramping up their efforts to steal your money with coronavirus-related scam calls. Don’t fall for calls pretending to be from your health insurance company, health experts, the government or people offering cure-all products or solutions for the virus. Report robocalls to ncdoj.gov/norobo or 1-844-8-NO-ROBO.
  • Beware of phishing scams — Be careful about where you get your information. Stick to trusted resources for updates, including NCDHHS and the CDC. Watch out for phishing emails and texts about the coronavirus that appear to be from health or government officials, and don’t open or download anything or share information with others unless you’ve verified who you’re communicating with.
  • Avoid charity scams — Make sure that any donations you give are going to real charities addressing the coronavirus, not scammers. Verify charities through the North Carolina Secretary of State, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator. Ask how your donation will be used, and pay by credit card for security and tax-record purposes.
  • Be a smart shopper — Take a moment before you buy in-demand items such as hand sanitizers, face masks, cleaning products or groceries. Don’t overstock on supplies you may not need. Before you make any medical purchase, check with your doctor to confirm whether you actually need that item. Check company and product reviews before you buy, and avoid high-pressure or time-limited offers.

North Carolina price-gouging laws are currently in effect. The DOJ will be reviewing price-gouging complaints from consumers and is prepared to take action against any businesses engaging in price-gouging activities. Potential price gouging can be reported by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging.