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EDITORIAL: Beware of Scams: Not even global pandemic will slow attempts by scammers to prey on their fellow East Texans

August 1, 2020 GMT

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the state’s U.S. attorneys this week had to warn their fellow Texans about fraudulent schemes related to personal protection equipment.

Scammers have been profiting from fraudulent schemes involving masks and other COVID-19 related equipment, as if East Texans needed any more proof about the depths of their depravity. That equipment, if it even really exists, is often counterfeit or mislabeled.

Paxton and the U.S. attorneys urge everyone to exercise increased due diligence and caution when dealing with new suppliers or vendors, especially when using a third-party broker.

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Also this week, SocialCatfish.com released a study on coronavirus scams by state and how to avoid them based on data from the Federal Trade Commission, FBI and IRS through July.

As of July 15, Texas residents filed 6,427 fraud complaints with the FTC. This marks a 122% increase since the WHO declared a pandemic in March, when 2,892 complaints were filed.

This has resulted in $4.2 million in losses or $250 per victim in the state.

Nationally, the FTC has registered 144,727 reports of fraud costing victims $93 million — a median loss of $263 per person.

Online shopping ranks No. 1 for most complaints nationally, racking up 22,124 reports. The government reported a barrage of activity around stimulus checks, something to keep in mind with a second round of stimulus checks supposedly coming in August.

There are ongoing federal and state prohibitions on charging exorbitant prices for PPE during this time of national emergency. Price gouging law varies by state, but on average it is illegal to mark a product up 10% or more during a declared emergency.

As if this weren’t bad enough, consumers also need to be wary of the “everyday” scams that thieves are still attempting. According to the Better Business Bureau, some of those schemes include: employment scams, online purchase scams, fake check scams, home improvement scams and advance fee loan scams.

Texans who believe they have encountered scams or price gouging should call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online.

More information on unapproved or counterfeit PPE can be found at cdc.gov/niosh. You also can find information on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website and the Environmental Protection Agency website.

If you have information about PPE-related fraud, or about hoarding or price gouging of critical supplies, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling the national hotline at (866) 720-5721 or by submitting the NCDF Web Complaint Form.