Beware of COVID-19 related scams

By Jessie Wagoner

Some people with spare time on their hands aren’t using it for good, but instead are using it to create scams related to COVID-19, preying on people’s vulnerabilities and fears.

Nancy Thurgood, of McPherson, received a call from someone claiming to have a cure for coronavirus. The caller advised they would be happy to sell her “the cure” for just $100.

“I just laughed and hung up the phone,” Thurgood said. “There is no cure and if there was it wouldn’t be sold by phone. I did go ahead and call the Attorney General’s office to report it.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister announced last week a state and federal partnership to investigate and prosecute scammers attempting to prey on Kansans during the pandemic.

The two offices agree coordinating information and manpower will allow the agencies to more quickly, verify allegations and prosecute those who are profiteering off the crisis.

“This partnership will allow our two agencies to bring the maximum state and federal resources to bear to stop scams, frauds and price gouging during this state of emergency,” Schmidt said. “I appreciate Steve’s strong leadership in the U.S. attorney’s office and look forward to working closely with his team to protect Kansans in the face of this crisis.”

The attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division will work directly with two prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office designated for handling COVID-19 related matters.

“Nationally, we have seen everything from people offering for sale respiratory masks they were not going to deliver, to people seeking donations for non-existent COVID-19 charities,” McAllister said. “We are not going to stand by while that happens in Kansas.”

In an effort to minimize the risk of scams, community members should donate to established nonprofits or charities if they feel moved to contribute financially. The McPherson County Community Foundation has established a local fund to help in McPherson County. Area nonprofits are also experiencing financial hardships and would welcome donations.

Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt also issued a warning about scams her office is seeing pop up throughout the state. Her warning advises of 12 different insurance scam they have seen so far. Everything from bogus coronavirus insurance to fake travel insurance. The department’s warning can be found on the home page of the Kansas Insurance Department’s website, insurance.kansas.gov.

“Scammers don’t take breaks,” Schmidt said. “While Kansans are adjusting to their new everyday lives, scammers are out there looking to take advantage of the situation.”

During a recent city commission meeting, Mayor Tom Brown also warned citizens about possible scams.

“If you hear of someone having the cure, ignore that,” Brown said. “We are a long ways from a cure.”

Anyone with information about COVID-19-related scams or price gouging should file a complaint with the attorney general’s office online on a form specifically designed for coronavirus issues, available along with other resources about the state’s response to the outbreak, at www.ag.ks.gov. Kansans may also call the attorney general’s consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310 to request a paper complaint form by mail.

“People have enough to worry about right now,” Thurgood said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about this type of thing as well.”