The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders advises residents that scam artists, fraudsters and price gougers are working overtime during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has handed scammers a golden opportunity to line their own pockets,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “We can all protect ourselves, and each other, by staying informed and following a few simple guidelines for preventing fraud and scams.”
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has issued a series of consumer alerts relating to COVID-19, including fraudulent offers of health insurance. For more details visit the FTC online at fcc.gov/covid-scams.
Basic fraud prevention guidelines are:
- Never give out personal information over the phone. Government offices never ask for social security numbers by phone.
- Never open an unsolicited email or click on an unknown link in an email or text message.
- Check billing statements and other financial records regularly for suspicious charges.
- Ignore unsolicited mail, flyers, postcards or other printed material left at the door.
- Never answer the door for an unsolicited visitor. Government health agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, are not sending “inspectors” door-to-door.
In particular, residents are advised that health agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, are not sending “inspectors” door-to-door.
Fraud prevention experts warn that many schemes involve characteristic “red flags,” including:
- Offering a prize, a guaranteed investment, or other “free money.”
- Asking for money up front.
- Instructions to act quickly and not to tell anyone.
- No name, location, or website to verify.
In one common phone scam, a caller poses as a relative in trouble and asks for emergency money.
“These scammers often implore you to keep their situation a secret from other family members,” said Mirabella. “Don’t fall for it. Check with another family member if you are concerned.”
Union County residents can report suspected fraud to the Union County Office of Consumer Affairs. Online reporting is available at ucnj.org/public-safety, or call 908-654-9840. All voice mail is checked regularly.
Price gouging is illegal and can be reported to Union County or to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by filing a report online at njconsumeraffairs.gov or by calling 973-504-6240.
In addition, residents should be aware that articles, messages and advertisements for quack “cures” and unproven treatments have flooded social media, podcasts, and other online sources.
Commentary by persons posing as informed experts in both new and traditional media – print, television, and radio – can be another source of misinformation.
“Whether well intentioned or not, spreading misinformation about COVID-19 can have serious health consequences,” said Mirabella. “If you have any questions or concerns, the best source of advice is your own doctor.”
Mirabella also reminded residents who are experiencing symptoms to consult with their doctor regarding the Union County COVID-19 test center. The test center opened on March 23 and is available only through a doctor’s appointment and prescription.
All members of the public can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying at their own home, and suspending all non-essential visits or errands. Non-essential businesses are also under a statewide shutdown order.
For more information on COVID-19 prevention and protection, visit the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Residents with questions or concerns about COVID-19 can contact the New Jersey Department of Health by calling 211.
For updates and information on Union County services impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, visit ucnj.org/coronavirus-update.