Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today provided warnings, tips, and resources to Minnesota consumers so that they can be on the lookout for and protect themselves from scams related to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”).  With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising in Minnesota, scammers are increasingly preying on Minnesota consumers by attempting to sell them bogus products or unproven treatments, as well as attempting to trick them into revealing their sensitive personal or financial information. Attorney General Ellison also encouraged Minnesotans to report any price-gouging related to the COVID-19 crisis to his office.

“As we come together to combat COVID-19, Minnesotans need to be just as vigilant about protecting their pocketbooks from scammers as they are about keeping themselves and their communities healthy,” said Attorney General Ellison. “My job is to help Minnesotans afford their lives and live with dignity and respect, now more than ever. My office is on high alert to identify and use all our resources to COVID-19-related scams. We need Minnesotans’ help in doing it. I strongly urge anyone who has come across what they think is a scam or believes they’ve been a victim of one to contact my office immediately.

“It’s important to speak up if you’ve been scammed. You might feel ashamed and not want to tell anyone. But if you tell us, we may be able to help you, and when you tell us, you’ll be helping others,” Attorney General Ellison concluded.

Scams and how to avoid them

Scam artists are exploiting public anxieties surrounding COVID-19 to victimize consumers.  Emerging scams include: 

  • Setting up websites to sell bogus products, fake COVID-19 vaccines, and other unproven treatments,
  • Using fake emails, texts, and social media posts to deceptively solicit “donations” for victims, and
  • Imposter scams where scammers send malicious emails impersonating government agencies such as the CDC in hopes that you will click on a link, and thereby download malicious software that will give the scammer access to your personal or financial information.

Attorney General Ellison is providing Minnesotans with the following tips and resources for spotting and avoiding these emerging COVID-19 scams:

  • Don’t click on links from unknown sources:  By clicking on unknown links from unknown sources, you can inadvertently download malicious software or viruses on your computer, which can result in identity theft and exposure of your sensitive personal or financial information.  Also, ensure that your computer’s anti-virus software is fully updated.
  • Get updated information directly from relevant governmental agencies:  If you are seeking updates about COVID-19 and its impact in Minnesota, get your information directly from the relevant governmental agencies and not from suspect emails, sketchy websites, or social media posts from unknown origins.  You can stay informed about COVID-19 by directly visiting the Minnesota Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Minnesota Department of Health also has a COVID-19 Hotline at:  651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3902 (7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday).
  • Ignore online offers for “miracle” health products, treatments, or vaccinations:  There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.  Similarly, there are also no FDA-approved pills, lotions, lozenges, or any other prescription or over-the-counter health products available to treat or cure COVID-19.  As a result, if you see any advertisements or offers for such products online or in emails, you should ignore them because they are a scam.
  • Do your research before donating to a non-profit or charity:  Don’t be rushed or pressured into making a donation to a non-profit, charity, or fundraiser related to COVID-19 and never make a donation by money-wire, paying cash, or purchasing gift cards.  Instead, before donating, do your research to determine if the charity is legitimate.
  • Report suspected scams to the Attorney General’s Office:  If you believe you have been the victim of, or were targeted by, a COVID-19 scam, please contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office immediately.  You can file a complaint online or by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro)  or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).

Price-gouging

Attorney General Ellison’s Office is also concerned with reports that some retailers may be engaged in price-gouging practices by selling essential goods or services (such as food, health care related goods or services, and medical supplies) at unconscionable or excessively inflated prices as a result of COVID-19.  The Attorney General strongly encourages consumers to report such practices immediately to Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

“Not many people realize that Minnesota doesn’t have a law against price gouging, as 30 other states do. I think we should,” Attorney General Ellison said. “I’m glad a bill to ban price-gouging has been introduced in the Minnesota House. I strongly encourage the Legislature to pass it as quickly as possible so that we can protect Minnesota consumers from these despicable practices. Although we can’t legally fight price-gouging right now, the more people tell us about it, the more we’ll be able advocate for a bill that will allow us to fight it.”