If it’s too good to be true, it generally is. That is the message that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), California Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Riverside County District Attorney’s Office underlined during a virtual meeting hosted by Ethnic Media Services aimed at warning the community of prevalent scams as well as new ones generated by the pandemic.
“People are far more likely to avoid a scam if they hear about it,” FTC Associate Director Division of Consumer Response and Operations Monica Vaca noted.
The top reported scam in the Inland Empire is online shopping orders that never arrive; those include critical items such as facemasks and hand sanitizers, Vaca indicated.
Additional scams involve treatments and tests, fabricated tracking information of online orders, and threats of eviction.
Chief Deputy District Attorney of Riverside County Kelli Catlett warned consumers fraudsters will attempt to charge up to $185 for fake tests – rapid or blood – and offer to meet in a medical facility’s parking lot to administer the test, promising results in under an hour.
“That is not true, that does not happen, there is nothing that’s been approved by the FDA that facilitates that,” Catlett noted. “We are seeing that (scammers) prey upon people that they overhear, it’s almost like they’re sending people out into the community to recruit for that money.”
A COVID-19 related scam to watch for is the “opportunity” of earning $1,000 to sign up for a trial. That is false.
FTC Regional Director, Western Region Los Angeles Maricela Segura cautions consumers against trusting companies that make claims of ready-to-ship PPEs. There are recorded complaints of packages not arriving, companies providing false tracking information, and claims that products are en route.
Consumers report receiving text messages and emails with hyperlinks within them claiming a package is ready, loyalty rewards card loaded with money ready to be delivered, or opportunities for profit.
“Don’t touch on the hyperlinks, be it a text message, be it from Wells Fargo, just don’t touch on a hyperlink that comes your way,” warned FBI agent Bill Murdoch. “I got a text message asking me if I want to put a Bud Light sticker on my vehicle for $500, maybe it’s legit, I don’t know, but I’m not going to touch on that hyperlink.”
Due to the pandemic some landlords are taking advantage of renters by threatening eviction and deportation for nonpayment of rent, and lying to tenants about their right to make partial rent payments.
California Attorney General Consumer Protection Section Lead Nick Akers underscored to the community that there is a stay on evictions for individuals affected by COVID-19 until early 2021 through AB 3088, and advises if you or someone you know is victimized by a predatory landlord, seek out your local Legal Aid office to assert your rights and protections.
In addition, beware of individuals offering to help pay rent for a fee.
A prevalent scam before the pandemic hit is the Grandparent Scam where individuals pose as the victim’s grandchild, niece or nephew asking for bail money in a pretense of distress.
“Never send money in an unrecoverable form right away… call family members to check out if the story is real,” Segura advised. “Pass this on to your communities, when you get a call that claims to be in distress, don’t rush to wire money or buy the gift cards and send over the numbers. Take a moment.”
Another scam to avoid is paying an upfront fee to an individual who claims they can help you get out of debt. That is not the case.
According to Akers, for-profit colleges and trade schools, namely Corinthian Colleges that operated as WyoTech, Everest, and Heald schools in San Bernardino, swindled thousands of students out of quality education.
“The school invested millions in marketing, making false promises about job placement and graduation rates to lure students, and they’re particularly targeting veterans and GI Bill benefits,” Akers revealed. “Students didn’t get the education they were promised and many ended up saddled with student loans that they could not afford.
Akers pointed out that the AG’s Office put Corinthian out of business, and recommends students seek options that include state colleges, community colleges and apprenticeships.
Immigration remains a popular hot spot for fraud.
“The Attorney General, district attorneys, and other agencies have prosecuted cases up and down the state against scammers that lied and stole their clients’ money, made false promises, or provided incompetent service or bad advice,” Akers said. “If you need immigration help, don’t go to somebody who calls themselves a ‘notario’ or immigration consultant, they cannot legally provide immigration advice.”
Instead, Akers recommends individuals seek services from a legitimate immigration lawyer, TODECO, or Catholic Charities authorized by the federal government to provide immigration advice.
Akers emphasized that the Attorney General’s Office helps all Californians regardless of immigration status. “We will never share a victim’s information with federal immigration authorities,” urging victims to report fraud to oag.ca.gov/report or call (800) 952-5225.
To file a complaint with the FTC: www.ftc.gov
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Report Identity Theft: www.IdentityTheft.gov/ssa TODEC call center: (888) 863-3291