By Marni von Wilpert
A pop-up testing site without proper medical certifications. Text messages promising a cure. $50 bottles of Purell. These are just some of the scams that have been perpetrated on San Diego consumers by fraudsters preying on people’s anxiety during this crisis.
It’s as despicable as it is dangerous — scammers and price gougers using the global health crisis to rake in shady profits on the backs of the most vulnerable. In response, San Diego prosecutors and law enforcement have joined forces to protect our community.
In my unit at the San Diego City Attorney’s Office we’re taking swift legal action against price gougers so working families can access and afford basic necessities. And we’re working closely with police to combat online frauds and track and shut down testing scams.
Don’t respond to unverified texts, emails or calls related to unemployment funds or federal stimulus checks. Government agencies will not text or email you to ask for your bank account or personal information. No action is required for most people to receive their federal relief payments. For information on economic relief, use trusted websites like irs.gov and sba.gov.
Ignore online offers for vaccines, cures, and home test kits. There are no tests approved for home-use and there is no over the counter treatment for COVID-19 at this time. Testing in San Diego is accessed through existing healthcare providers and the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.
Hang up on COVID-19 related robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from fake Medicare products to phony charity drives. Seniors should guard against Medicare frauds that require you to “verify” your information. When in doubt, just hang up.
Ignore text messages with claims or offers related Coronavirus. Do not click on links in text messages from unverified sources — these can contain harmful malware. For official San Diego County public health updates, text ‘COSD COVID19’ to 468-311 to sign up for daily updates.
Monitor your credit. With trillions of federal dollars flowing into pandemic assistance programs, identity theft is on the rise. Only use authorized government websites to submit information to claim unemployment insurance, or pandemic unemployment assistance.
Report price gouging to law enforcement. During this public health emergency, it is illegal for any retailer to mark up their prices by more than 10% over what they charged before COVID-19. Don’t let yourself get duped into paying exorbitant prices for basic necessities. And report violations to the City Attorney’s Office at (619) 533-5800 or online.
Most San Diegans are coming together like never before to get through this crisis. Let’s keep protecting ourselves and each other from this pandemic – and from those who would exploit it for their own profit.
Marni von Wilpert is a civil prosecutor in the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. She is a candidate for District 5 on the San Diego City Council in November.
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