Advance Notice: Briefs

COVID-19 scammers posing as health dept. employees

By: - March 19, 2020 2:09 pm

Attorney General Dana Nessel announces a crackdown on robocalls, Nov. 15, 2019 | Anna Liz Nichols

Scammers are spoofing phone numbers of Ionia County Health Department, the Michigan attorney general’s office announced. Callers are posing as employees to gain people’s personal and financial information, taking advantage of people’s fears of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus.

Individuals who notice price gouging of products in high demand during the COVID-19 crisis or receive a phone call that they feel might be from a scammer are encouraged to call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 877-765-8388 or file an online complaint.

Callers can falsify information sent to a caller ID so it looks like it’s coming from a government agency or organization. As a result, there’s an increase in people calling the county health department with questions, which Attorney General Dana Nessel said slows their ability to respond to COVID-19.

Nessel announced a crackdown on robocalls in November 2019 to prevent scammers from targeting the elderly and preying on fear to get people’s financial and personal information.

In a one-on-one interview with the Advance this week, Nessel said there are some similarities with robocalls and COVID-19 scammers as they use “the flavor of the week” to trick people.

“That’s even scarier, because people are terrified to become sick or even die,” Nessel told the Advance. “So you’re able to manipulate people in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”

If anyone receives a call they suspect is a scam, the attorney general’s office said they should hang up and not share any information.

Price gouging also is illegal under one Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 related executive orders. No product can see a price raise of more than 20% of the price on or before March 9.

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.