By Caribbean News Global
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — Attorney-General William P. Barr is urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org; while prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves has caution merchants to stop price gouging or face consequences.
In this unprecedented crisis, two lawyers of a real revival with contrasting worldviews, have analysed important transitions, specific to current happenings demonstrate their willingness to act in the interest of humanity and commerce.
Health and financial crisis
Panic buying has influenced business and governments to take remedial action amid COVID–19 price gouging, supply-chain issues, health, and economic uncertainties facing a global crisis.
With the loss of rapid revenue streams, many businesses and industries will vanish overnight, as companies all over the world are having to close their doors and layoff employees immediately.
In the interim, governments are expanding economic packages to fuel the cycle of commerce. However, experience shows that unless the stimulus is directed at core economic virtues and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME’s), top executives and business conglomerates have shown the tendency to buy-back stock options, hoard taxpayers interest fee loans, file chapter 11, and pad executives compensations with golden handshakes. In the COVID–19 era, elbow greasing and jerking are commonplace.
COVID–19 health and financial crisis; and stock market crash, have simultaneously created extreme market volatility and uncertainty. This has also energized the expectations of a new bull market; testing Wall Street and investor psychology. The new reality quite simply inscribes Black Monday in 1987 or the market meltdowns in 2000 and 2008.
At this time everyone is going to have to adjust and make changes to how business is conducted. There is also a need to also re-write strategy, economic futures, diversify, adapt to the markets’ needs and demands. And as to a signal of the potential uptrend, timely lessons on how the investment atmosphere unfolds will influence long-term impact.
Stop price gouging or face consequences
Dr Ralph Gonsalves has advised the minister with responsibility for trade and commerce, Sir Louis Straker, permanent secretary and the director of trade to convene with trade merchants.
“And I told them the following things: First of all, do not sugar-coat you’re telling them that we have credible evidence that some merchants have been gouging consumers already and it must stop; and that we have the legal provision in place already, to be able to impose on a list of commodities, price control, and that would have certain consequences,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said his administration does not want to go that route, but “we want to show them that they can do normal trade, and if you do normal trade you can make your reasonable mark-up as per usual.
Gonsalves continued: “Don’t take advantage of people to charge more for sanitisers, aloe or alcohol because you’re mixing the strong rum with the aloe to give you a good hand sanitizer, because the rum is a sanitizer and the aloe is like the balm. You can’t double the price of the bottle of aloe from $10.00 to $20.00 overnight.
“And we’ll keep an eye out to see that the merchant doesn’t keep the price the same way, essentially collect the Value Added Tax (VAT) we should have collected and let the consumer pay for it. We’ll watch for that too because that would be gouging. So I want to make that point first.”
Report COVID–19 fraud
In Washington, attorney-general Barr directed all US attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of coronavirus-related fraud schemes. In a follow-up memorandum issued March 19, deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen further directed each US attorney to appoint a coronavirus fraud coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the coronavirus, direct the prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness.
Some examples of these schemes include:
- Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID–19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
- Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
- Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
- Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID–19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all US attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state attorneys general and local authorities.
As business and government struggle to contain the COVID–19 pandemic, unfortunately, scammers are using the situation to take advantage of people, during these uncertain times.
This makes it even more relevant to how corporate and government agencies message COVID–19 trustworthy information. As well as precautionary measures to avoid getting duped and fight off nefarious efforts of scammers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has revealed a rise in fraud schemes related to the COVID–19 pandemic.
“Scammers are leveraging the COVID–19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don’t let them. Protect yourself and do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus; donating to a charity online or through social media; contributing to a crowdfunding campaign; purchasing products online, or giving up your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits,” the FBI said in a public service announcement.
The FBI advises you to be on the lookout for fake Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emails; (phishing emails; apps scams); charity scams; counterfeit treatments or supply and equipment; investment scams and a reminder to “always use good cyber hygiene and security measures.”
If you believe you are the victim of an internet scam or cybercrime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.