TEXARKANA, Texas — Scams related to the pandemic are emerging, but local state and federal officials are taking action to combat such unscrupulous practices.
Just a few days ago, an 86-year-old Texarkana, Texas, woman received an email with a video attached warning that things are about to get apocalyptic.
The video, which is long, stokes at every fear imaginable before offering the solution —for a fee of course.
The video emailed to the local senior promises that for $37 you can get a "course" in how to survive the coming chaos and get a recipe for a "supplement cocktail" that will help you overcome it.
The woman said she worried after watching the video that it was a scam and decided to share it with the Gazette.
Following are ways local and state and national officials are working to help protect residents.
Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle said his office intends to prosecute "anyone engaging in deceptive trade, confidence schemes, selling advice, remedies and cures or price gouging in the jurisdiction to the fullest extent of the law."
"The weakest among us are often the ones who are preyed upon," Rochelle said.
Referring to the 86-year-old mentioned above, Rochelle responded, "Tell her she's got a friend here in the District Attorney's office and we'll do everything within our power to protect her."
Rochelle said anyone who believes they are being targeted, have been a victim or who knows of ongoing fraud should contact his office at 903-735-4800.
"If appropriate we'll handle it in-house or we'll point them to the appropriate law enforcement agency," Rochelle said.
Texarkana, Texas, Police Spokesman Shawn Vaughn said his department is out in force.
"With the governor's emergency declaration may come additional penalties and open other avenues of enforcement," Vaughn said.
Bowie County Sheriff-Elect Jeff Neal said his deputies and investigators are out in the county working daily.
"We are on alert," Neal said. "If anyone in the county needs help we'll do what we can."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued numerous warnings regarding price gouging and scams.
"In addition to price gouging and deceptive trade practices, cyber scams have been reported. Cyber actors may send emails with dangerous attachments or fraudulent website links intended to deceive citizens into revealing sensitive information or donating to false charities. Any social media posts or email with a Coronavirus (COVID-19) subject line, attachment or hyperlink should be treated with caution," the Texas AG's website states.
Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett, who serves Miller and Lafayette Counties, said consumers who find examples of price gouging or other illicit activity are asked to report such to the Arkansas Attorney General's website at arkansasag.gov/covid19/report along with a photo of the suspected gouging or fraud.
Texarkana, Ark., Police Spokeswoman Kristi Bennett said her office is following guidelines set by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to direct possible fraud victims and reports concerning ongoing fraud directly to the AG's office.
"We want people to know our AG is standing behind our citizens," Bennett said.
Bennett said fraud always increases in tax season and she is concerned the uncertainty created by the pandemic will make things worse.
"If you get an email from a retailer asking you to click on a link because your password or other information has been compromised, don't click on it. Go directly to the retailer's site, chat with online representatives or use the email feature available on their site," Bennett said.
Miller County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Lewis said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, based on the state of emergency declared by the governor, has asked state and local law enforcement to coordinate in investigations of price gouging which Lewis said is defined by a mark-up of 10 percent or more.
"We're encouraging people to exercise due caution," Lewis said.
The Arkansas AG website warns of price gouging and cybercrimes as well. The site has links to report fraud and is offering free webcasts to the public. Visit the Arkansas AG website to sign up for a webcast.
""It is important to remain vigilant when avoiding any contagious illness, but some misinformation surrounding Coronavirus is causing undue panic and fraudsters are taking advantage of that fear," Rutledge said in a press statement. "Like any scam, don't buy into this hysteria and get your facts from the experts."
U.S. Attorney General William Barr warned this week that federal prosecutors are making fraudsters who prey on people's fear and panic a top priority.
The Federal Trade Commission is warning the public to be wary as well. The agency is advising that clicking on a link you don't recognize could infect your computer or other device with malware and to delete emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control or other experts claiming to have information about the COVID-19 virus. For the most up-to-date information on the virus visit the CDC's website.
Anyone who purchased enormous amounts of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in hopes of making a huge profit might find themselves in legal trouble as many states have laws against price gouging during times of crisis. Amazon and other online retailers are cracking down on third-party sellers who appear to be depleting store shelves in hopes of a quick and easy source of cash from panicked consumers.
False news stories and advertisements for "cures" should be scrutinized as well, the FTC urges.
Emergencies like the current pandemic can also bring out the best in people. If you are considering a charitable donation, however, avoid giving to anyone requesting gift cards, wire transfers or cash, the FTC advises.