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Police: beware of COVID-19 scams

FAIRMONT — The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a whole new roster of scams, from a miracle cure to a phony fundraiser for medical equipment.

“It brings out the best in people, but it also brings out the worst in people,” said Fairmont Police Chief Mike Hunter. “You see opportunists looking to strike fear in people and using the pandemic as an opportunity to make money, and that is shameful.”

Hunter said his department has not yet received any local reports from victims of a scam.

“That, unfortunately, usually means it’s on it’s way. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely we are to see an increase in particular scams,” he said.

The Fairmont Police Department gets reports of possible scams from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, as well as other governmental agencies. That information shows a variety of methods used to con people out of their financial information and their money.

Offers of a miracle cure or vaccine are popping up on the Internet and social media.

“Unless it comes from the Department of Health or the Center for Disease Control, it’s probably fake,” Hunter said.

The charity scams appear with a long menu of causes. Help a medical student finish school. A small clinic needs protective gear for its staff. A family needs money to test for the virus. Donations are requested to be sent directly to the recipient or through a crowd funding source.

“People try to take advantage of your good nature, where you’re trying to help others in need, but then you find out the charity you’re giving to isn’t a charity at all,” Hunter said.

He recommended doing thorough research on the request or only donating to those charities you know and trust to be legitimate.

Tax-related schemes always gain momentum this time of year, even more so with the federal stimulus checks scheduled to be sent out this month.

“We’re starting to see people getting calls from people saying they represent the IRS or the federal government. They’re trying to get your banking information so your stimulus check can be deposited. All they’re trying to do is get your information so they can take money out of your account, not put it in,” Hunter said.

The government will not call you and ask for your bank account information to deposit your stimulus check, he said. If you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019 and provided direct deposit information, that check automatically will go into your bank account without any further action from you. If you were mailed a refund check during those two years, your stimulus money will be mailed to you later this summer.

Phishing scams, which involve fraudulent emails, also are becoming more prevalent.

“A lot of people right now are ordering items online and using streaming services for movies. You might get an email request to update your account information, but if you look at the email address, it’s actually fraudulent. They’re just trying to get your banking information,” Hunter said.

In spite of all the warnings and words of caution, people do get conned.

“Don’t be embarrassed is you are a victim of fraud,” Hunter said. “The people who make a living off deceiving others are very good at it. They keep finding new ways to get money from people. Report it so we can make sure it doesn’t happen to the next person.”

If people feel they have been defrauded, they should call the Fairmont Police Department at (507) 238-4481 or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline with U.S. Department of Justice at 866-720-5721.

Hunter also recommended the Federal Trade Commission website, www.ftc.gov, or the Minnesota Department of Commerce website, www.mn.gov/commerce/consumers, for more information.

“Just remember: If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If somebody has a question about whether an offer is legitimate, they can always give us a call. We’re more than happy to help them out,” he said.

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