Since there has been such a major life shift because of this pandemic, I felt we need to have information in one place for our followers. There will be two portions to this page. First is about the virus – WE’RE NOT THE EXPERTS on the medical side so that part will be websites you can go to for information. We’re trying to take away from the “talking heads” expert approach and only encouraging people to get their information from: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Riverstone Health (Billings). The second part which we are more familiar with is the Scams eminating from the pandemic. This portion will be from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office (Montana) and most recently the Department of Public Health and Human Services (Montana DPHHS).
COVID-19 information from health care professionals:
Riverstone Health – https://riverstonehealth.org/
Scams that have come as a result of COVID-19.
This detailed account was passed on by Chuck Harwood, Regional Director, Seattle Region of the Federal Trade Commission:
Consumer Protection and the Pandemic
Less than four months since we met at the FTC-Washington AGO Common Ground Conference in Seattle last December, but it seems like another time. I am reaching out about mutual efforts to deliver a robust response on behalf of consumers and businesses who are reporting opportunistic illegal conduct and fraud in connection with the public health emergency, including for example:
- investments or business opportunity promotions related in some way to COVID-19;
- charitable or other fundraising or financial campaigns purporting to help those affected;
- products or services falsely represented to prevent or reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 or to be effective in curing or shortening the disease;
- bogus government payment and financial assistance scams; and,
- imposter scams that purport to be calls or messages from reputable government and health agencies.
Complaints are vital to an aggressive response against schemes like these. Complaints filed with AGOs and BBBs are usually merged into the FTC’s complaint system. The FTC also welcomes complaints directly at https://www.ftc.gov or by calling 877-382-4357. Whether forwarded from partners or filed directly, complaints the FTC receives are shared with other law enforcement agencies including state attorneys general, and the US Department of Justice though our Consumer Sentinel Network (law enforcement registration and access information here). FTC staff are also available to provide training to law enforcement partners on how to retrieve these complaints (send me an email asking for training contacts).
As you know, efforts to respond are underway. The FTC has sent a number of warning letters in conjunction with the FDA and more could follow. Investigations could also result. U.S. DOJ filed its first case on Saturday and more DOJ information is here. State AGOs are also aggressively monitoring for COVID-19 related marketing scams, as well as paying close attention to deplorable reports of price gouging. (This National Association of Attorneys General page includes some examples of state AG actions.)
Many consumer protection agencies and advocates have also been warning consumers and businesses about phishing and other scams. The FTC has disseminated various consumer (also in Spanish) messages and also business (also in Spanish) education messaging for those working from home. Some of our consumer education messages are also available in Korean, Tagalog, and Simplified and Traditional Chinese at the bottom of this page. (If other languages are needed, let me know and I will inquire with the FTC consumer education office.)
Charles A Harwood
Director, Northwest Region
Federal Trade Commission, Seattle