Are Pandemic Scams On The Rise?

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of life, including crime

In the late winter and early spring of 2020, our world changed when the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly spread around the globe, upending our sense of normalcy entirely. School, work, the global supply chain — seemingly everything has been affected by this virus. 

People, as we often do, were searching anywhere and everywhere in order to find credible information as to what they should do to keep themselves and their families safe. How is the virus transmitted? Did we need to sanitize our groceries? Are children less susceptible to the virus? Where do we turn for the right information?

Being that we were all learning about the virus in real-time as it was happening, it was no wonder that we sometimes found ourselves doing things that weren’t necessary while also not doing things that might have kept us safer. There was simply too much information, often contradictory in nature, for us to keep up with. 

It is precisely in this type of chaotic environment that certain types of criminals can thrive. They see a vulnerable person or group of people, exploit their fears, and find ways in which they can take advantage of the moment for their own financial gain. 

Is price gouging illegal in New Jersey?

To be clear, we’re not necessarily referring to those instances where certain parties decided to buy pandemic supplies in bulk, such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and other items like personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical grade masks in order to resell them at a higher margin. 

That said, we should point out that in the state of New Jersey, there are laws against price gouging when a state of emergency has been declared. 

According to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the state’s law defines price gouging as a price increase in excess of ten percent or higher than what the product or service would typically be sold for in the normal course of business (ie, not during a state of emergency). 

This law will also stay in effect until 30 days after the state of emergency has been terminated. If a person or business is charged and convicted, the civil penalty is up to $10,000 for each first offense (each individual sale is considered a separate violation of the law), and up to $20,000 for each subsequent, distinct offense. 

Pandemic scammers are becoming even more creative

Now that we’re nearly two years into this pandemic, scammers have become increasingly creative in their ability to take advantage of people. With each new development, there arises the opportunity for creative criminals to exploit unwitting victims. 

Such is the case when it comes to vaccines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, who long looks for and investigates scams of all types, have noticed a great deal of effort by criminals to take advantage of a confused public. Some of their most common recommendations are as follows:

  • You should be very wary of vendors offering to sell vaccine doses for payment — only seek out vaccination from a reputable medical source
  • You should be wary of ever being asked to pay to have your name or the names of your loved ones placed on a waiting list to receive early access to the vaccine
  • You should be wary of being asked to pay an out of pocket expense toward your getting vaccinated
  • Avoid giving out any personal information to any unknown source claiming to be connected with vaccine distribution
  • Beware of any entity requesting you go through any additional medical testing in order to be given access to a COVID-19 vaccine

Pandemic related crimes are not limited to online scammers

Federal authorities are also incredibly concerned by the increase in crimes related to the exploitation of children, as well as racially motivated hate crimes that have been on the rise in the last two years. 

In just the first three months of the pandemic, the FBI saw over 300 incidents relating to child sex trafficking and abuse, often perpetrated via online forums, such as Zoom. This type of activity is sometimes referred to as “Zoom bombing,” where criminals will broadcast disturbing material to unsuspecting groups of Zoom users who are logged onto the platform for events like virtual church services, school, and other types of online gatherings. 

Experts recommend always using password protected invites for their virtual gatherings, and to never hesitate to contact the authorities if you should suspect any type of abuse taking place toward a child or other potential victims. 

Relatedly, racially motivated hate crimes have been on the rise during the pandemic, due to certain rhetoric aimed at people of East Asian descent, in particular. Witnesses of any time of violent crime should never hesitate to contact the authorities so that citizens from all backgrounds can live safely. 

When looking for pandemic advice, seek out the helpers

It’s been a very long time since our nation last had to navigate the effects of a global pandemic, and it seems that the best way to get through this situation is to look for information from credible, non-biased sources. 

If you’re interested in learning more about ways to keep yourself and your family legally safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact The Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot today. We’re here to listen, and to help, in your very own confidential consultation. Call now!