LIMA — As Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost prepares residents for the likelihood that scamming and price-gouging practices will become more commonplace across the state the longer the coronavirus pandemic continues, a local Better Business Bureau spokeswoman said Friday there have been no reports of unscrupulous business practices reported to date.
“But my guess is that by Monday, there are going be things popping up,” said Cheryl Parsons, president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio.
Parsons based that assumption in part on what’s already happening in some parts of Ohio. Through daily emails and telephone conversations with her BBB counterparts across the state, Parsons said she is hearing of attempts to convince the Buckeye State’s most vulnerable residents to part with their money.
“People are telling me that in the bigger cities, people are going door-to-door offering to sell drugs and testing kits they say will stop the virus. Well, that’s a scam right there,” Parsons said.
Similar attempts are being made via fake telephone calls and email messages.
“I got a call today telling me that I had a problem with my American Express card,” Parsons said. “I don’t even have an American Express card, so I knew it was a scam.”
She said people who receive similar phone calls or emails should never reply to telephone numbers suggested by the sender but should instead call the bank that issued the credit card.
Yost on Thursday issued a list of tips to avoid coronavirus-related scams. Included on that list:
• Ignore online advertisements promoting cures for the coronavirus. None currently exist.
• Research nonprofit organizations and crowdfunding campaigns before donating. A database of registered charities is available on the AG’s website. Never donate via cash, gift cards, wire transfer or prepaid money card.
• Be cautious of anyone going door-to-door offering coronavirus testing or temperature readings and requesting personal information. Call law enforcement immediately if you see a suspicious person.
• When online, avoid clicking on unknown links or pop-ups and never download any suspicious email attachment.
Consumers who suspect an unfair or deceptive sales practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.
Within minutes of the attorney general’s warnings on Thursday, The Lima News itself was the target of an email extortion attempt.
“I know every dirty little secret about your life,” the email said. “I know all of your passwords. I am aware of your whereabouts. If I want, I could even infect your whole family with the coronavirus. You need to pay me $4,000 via Bitcoin to the address below. You have 24 hours to make the payment. If I do not get the payment I will infect every member of your family with the coronavirus.”
The attorney general also announced plans to seek a new anti-price gouging law that does not rely on price controls when the Ohio General Assembly meets next week.
“I’m outraged that anybody would try to profiteer on a crisis, particularly on items that are necessary for the health and safety of Ohioans,” Yost said.
Yost said his Consumer Protection section received more than 150 complaints of price gouging this month amid the coronavirus pandemic and is actively working with members of the business community and trade associations to protect consumers.
“We don’t have a price-gouging law in Ohio because we believe in free markets, but free markets don’t include the idea of holding toilet paper and surgical masks hostage,” Yost said.
Parsons likewise admitted there is a fine line between capitalism – retailers allowing supply-and-demand to drive the market price for goods and services – and price-gouging. The Lima-based BBB president said there have as yet been no reported incidents of price-gouging.
“Yes, there have been shortages because people have stockpiled toilet paper or hand sanitizer. But that’s not gouging,” Parsons said. “The shelves are being restocked when the next truck arrives.”