Local authorities have warned residents to beware of predatory scammers who are using the ongoing pandemic to defraud Minnesotans.
The coronavirus crisis has created a "perfect storm for scam activity," said Bao Vang, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Consumers are more susceptible to fraud because they are isolated and not as exposed to news, experiencing more financial and emotional vulnerability and desperation, spending more time online and generally feeling more distracted, Vang said.
Last week, the local BBB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a webinar on how to avoid scams during the COVID-19 crisis.
"In times of uncertainty or disasters there is a greater risk for consumers and businesses falling victim to the skillful yet malicious intent of fraudsters," BBB President and CEO Susan Adams Loyd said.
Public safety departments, financial institutions and other agencies have also sent warnings to consumers on coronavirus-related fraud.
"As we come together to combat COVID-19, Minnesotans need to be just as vigilant about protecting their pocketbooks from scammers as they are about keeping themselves and their communities healthy," said Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement last month.
The FTC's database of consumer fraud complaints reported 18,000 complaints and $13.4 million in losses to coronavirus scams nationally.
Some of the most common coronavirus scams include:
• Fake treatment and miracle cures. Beware of websites selling bogus products as cures. Ignore online and telephone offers for vaccinations, tests and cures.
• Suspicious e-mails or texts from purported organizations or government agencies like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often words are misspelled. Don't click on links or e-mails from sources you don't know that could contain malware.
• False debt-relief inquiries. More fraudulent robocalls are offering fake debt-relief programs or telling consumers to pay money up front or give personal information to get stimulus checks. Be cautious of someone who says they can get you money immediately. Just hang up the phone.
• Fake charities. Often during a crisis, scammers create fake organizations to solicit donations. Before you donate, do research on the groups for verification. Beware of solicitors who want donations in cash, gift cards or money wire.
• Employment scams. When people are underemployed or unemployed, they might look for other jobs. Resist the temptation to rush into applying and sending personal information without researching a company. If job listings sound too good to be true, they likely are.
If residents believe they have been the victim of a scam, a complaint can be filed with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office online or by calling (651) 296-3353 (metro) or (800) 657-3787 (greater Minnesota). Consumers can also report scam activity and suspicious behavior to the BBB at bbb.org/scamtracker. You can also call the BBB at 651-699-1111 to speak with a local representative.