State warns of potential virus scams
| March 19, 2020 10:03 AM
Attorney General Tim Fox cautioned Montanans about coronavirus-related scams that have been emerging in other parts of the country, and urged them to be aware of potential impacts to their financial health as well.
“Scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus fears in other parts of the country, and it’s important to be wary of con artists who want to capitalize on the uncertainty that accompanies this time of heightened concern,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “Montanans should be cautious of bogus claims for products to prevent or cure coronavirus, in addition to unexpected messages or offers that are suspicious.
“My Office of Consumer Protection stands ready to advise folks who have questions about any offers that seem suspect, so consider contacting OCP before responding in questionable situations.”
While his Office of Consumer Protection has not yet received complaints about price-gouging related to the coronavirus, Fox reminds Montanans that state law protects them from unfair or deceptive trade practices and price fixing.
Violations of 30-14-103 are subject to civil fines of up to $20,000 for willful violations, and criminal sanctions of up to $5,000 and one year in prison.
Violations of 30-14-205 are subject to criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The Montana Department of Justice has authority to enforce civil and criminal violations of these statutes through its Office of Consumer Protection and Prosecution Services Bureau.
The FTC and FDA have jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent coronavirus.
The companies’ products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. They have no evidence to back up their claims, as required by law.
According to the FDA, there are currently no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products available to treat or prevent the virus.
Lastly, Fox also cautioned Montanans about investment scams, which are important to keep in mind in light of the unstable stock market.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued an investor alert to warn investors about investment frauds involving claims that a company’s products or services can help stop the coronavirus.
For more information, contact the Office of the Montana State Auditor, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
Fox offered the following tips to avoid getting scammed by coronavirus con artists:
1. Don’t click on email links from sources you don’t know.
2. Watch for emails claiming to be from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or experts saying they have information about the virus.
Go directly to the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov for the most current information.
3. Ignore online offers for vaccinations, oils, pills, potions, lotions, or lozenges that claim to prevent, treat, or cure coronavirus (COVID-19).
4. Do your homework when it comes to making donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites.
Be especially suspicious of phone calls asking for donations. Never donate with cash, gift cards, or by wiring money.
For coronavirus-related consumer complaints regarding price gouging, scams, or travel refunds, call the Montana Office of Consumer Protection at 800-481-6896 or 406-444-4500 or use OCP’s convenient online reporting form.