Police warn of COVID-19 scams

Technology Capt. Brad Snyder, Public Information Officer for the Paragould Police Department, warns that residents’ cell phones and computers are vulnerable to scams, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As so often happens in times of national crisis, some people are out to take advantage of others’ distress.

So the Paragould Police Department is warning of scams, particularly those that target cellular telephones, and they are offering suggestions and how to avoid them.

“Unfortunately, scammers come out of the woodwork when there is a time of crisis or uncertainty,” said Technology Capt. Brad Snyder, public information officer for the department. “They play on the fears and concerns of society, and seem to especially target the elderly.”

Snyder warned that some scams, aimed primarily at Android-type phones at present, may seek to gain control of such device and “lock them down” in an attempt to get a ransom. That is, the phone owner will not be able to use the phone unless and until he or she sends the ransom amount to a specified place or website.

Other scams can try to gain control of the target phone’s camera and/or microphones. “It’s basically spyware,” Snyder said.

Such scams arrive at the target phone via text with a link. Snyder therefore warned that people should not click such links. “They can even access your texts themselves,” he said. “My advice is just ignore them. If it’s really important and legitimate, the sender will call you to follow up and ask about it.”

He also warned that there is no “door-to-door testing” for COVID-19.

“Anyone coming to your home to conduct a swab and collect a fee is not legit,” he said.

The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) is likewise warning citizens of this scam. Persons impersonating employees of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been going door to door, offering COVID-19 testing in exchange for money and personal information. ADEM has confirmed that the CDC is not going door to door for testing.

Arkansas residents encountering someone at their door stating they are there to test them for a Coronavirus or COVID19 should file a consumer complaint with the Arkansas Attorney General’s office by calling (501) 682-2007 or (800) 482-8982 or downloading a Consumer Complaint Form at https://arkansasag.gov/forms/file-a-consumer-complaint/

Other entities have also warned of scammers going door to door, claiming they need to check valid identification for everyone in a residence for the April 1 Census. The Greenville (N.C.) Neighborhood Alliance warned of people claiming to represent (and presenting official-looking credentials from) a nonexistent federal Department of Home Affairs. “They are robbing homes,” said the advisory.

Snyder said that anyone suspecting they are being targeted by a scam should check with the Federal Trade Commission (consumer.ftc.gov).

In addition, Snyder advised people not to click on links from unknown sources. “They could download viruses onto your computer or device,” he said.

Residents should also watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at https://www.cdc.gov/ and the World Health Organization (WHO) at https://www.who.int/. The state Department of Health also has up-to-date information at https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/

Ignore online offers for vaccinations. As previously reported, there currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – online or in stores.

And Snyder urged residents to do their homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites.

“Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation,” he said. “If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.”

Snyder said his best advice is to find the information oneself. “Do not let the information come to you in the form of applications or websites that may or may not be legitimate,” he concluded. “Websites that are government based are safe bets.”

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