ALBANY — Scammers impersonating police officers and peddling fake virus cures are just some of the scams emerging from scammers seeking to take advantage of a fearful public.
“We’re seen potions and lotions and toothpaste and you name it from individuals fraudulently claiming these are cures for COVID,” said state Attorney General Letitia James said on Thursday.
There is no cure for the virus, whether creams, supplements or air purifiers.
“There is no magic bullet to prevent you from getting COVID aside from the procedures from day one, including hand washing,” said Albany County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen.
James said her office has been aggressively investigating price gouging complaints and reports of scammers posing as Albany and Troy police officers asking for either financial information to resolve fake debts or money in the form of gift cards to avoid arrest on non-existent charges.
“I call them bottom feeders,” said James, who appeared remotely at Albany County’s daily press briefing on Thursday.
The faux cops are also demanding their victims purchase gift cards to “post bond” in lieu of being arrested on criminal charges.
“To make these scams even more deceiving, these scammers have utilized caller ID spoofing, which deceptively makes it appear that the call is actually coming from the local police department, and they have been using the real names of police officers in the area,” said James’ office in a press release.
Older citizens are particularly vulnerable.
And as stimulus checks trickle in to local mailboxes, so are the fraudsters going door-to-door posing as government officials, falsely claiming personal information is required in order to access the funds.
The state Attorney General’s Office is also investigating reports of price gouging, which have shifted from hand sanitizer and masks at the beginning of the pandemic to household staples like bread, eggs, meat and toilet paper.
James also reiterated emergency stimulus payments authorized by the CARES Act are exempt from garnishment under state law.
“We’ve told all debt collectors that they cannot garnish stimulus checks and if they do, we will take immediate action,” she said.
Utility providers are also warning customers of a new phone scam where impostors are demanding immediate bill payment through untraceable services like money transfer apps and threatening service disconnection.
National Grid and NYSEG have both temporarily suspended collections-related activities.
Scammers may also attempt to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims.
In these cases, the caller spoofs the official phone number of the Department of Public Service and calls individuals seeking payment for bills to avoid disconnection of service.
To report scams or price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-771-7755 or United Way of the Greater Capital Region’s 2-1-1 hotline.