David C Henley: Good news and bad news on the COVID-19 battle

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There’s good and bad news to report concerning the spread of the COVID-19 virus pandemic in Nevada.

The good news is that there has been a decrease in COVID-19 cases in Nevada during the past week, according to a state-by-state pandemic report published in the New York Times last Saturday, Aug. 22.

“At least 10 new coronavirus deaths and 874 new cases were reported Aug. 21. Over the past week, there have been an average of 682 cases per day, a decrease of 26 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Saturday afternoon, there have been at least 65,083 cases and 1,197 deaths in Nevada since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a Times database,” the newspaper reported.

Of the 65,083 cases in Nevada, there have been 91 in Churchill, 460 in Nye, 6,652 in Washoe, 5 in Eureka, 17 in Pershing, 293 in Lyon, 401 in Carson City and 24 in White Pine counties. Clark County, where approximately 75 percent of the state’s residents live, had 56,010 cases.

The bad news is that despite repeated warnings by county, state and federal officials for Nevadans to be vigilant of scams perpetrated upon innocent and unsuspecting citizens, the scams have not abated and victims continue to be cheated, according to a bulletin sent to me by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Nevada.

One of the most common scams are “Government Imposter Scams that prey on fear during the pandemic,” the BBB reported. “This scam involves telephone callers pretending to be government officials. Some of these claim to be tax officials and representatives of the Social Security Administration. Others claim to be law enforcement officers and threaten legal consequences. All of them use fear and intimidation to trick victims into turning over personal information or money, often in the form of gift cards. These scams have become more diverse and more sophisticated. In addition, many scammers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by posing as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials or Internal Revenue Service representatives who say they can expedite economic impact payments or contact tracers employed by local government agencies.

“Many of these scams involve robocalls that are transferred to call centers in India where an interaction takes place. They prey upon people with threats of being arrested if money is not paid or personal information is not provided. In many cases, the scammers tell consumers their Social Security number has been associated with a crime or may threaten to deport recent immigrants or arrest people for missing jury duty. In most of these cases, the scammers also demand payment in the form of gift cards,” the BBB stated.

The BBB reported about a Washoe County man who said he received a call from someone who purported to be from the FBI. The victim was told that his Social Security number had been compromised, that someone had committed a crime in his name and a warrant was out for his arrest. The man was ordered to transfer $4,300 to the hoaxer, which he did, before he realized he’d been had. The scammer had called the Washoe County man from India, and these cases are rarely prosecuted by the Indian authorities, the BBB added.

Although it is difficult for many of us to understand why others have succumbed to these scams and hoaxes, it is virtually impossible to comprehend that some have been taken in by ruses even more preposterous and unbelievable.

Take, for example, the phony medicines and cures peddled across the nation to prevent us from getting the coronavirus or cure us if we’ve already contracted the disease. One of them is a herbal remedy consisting of radish paste that costs $99.95 per bottle and is made from a combination of “white radish harvested during frost,” garlic and ginger, which can allegedly enhance a person’s immune system and prevent him or her from catching the coronavirus contagion, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The paste has not been tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a civil lawsuit filed last week by the Los Angeles city attorney against Angela K. Oh, who runs a company named Insan Healing which sells the paste and a variety of other alleged healing products including teas, foods and Korean bamboo salt, the Times reported.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said, “We’ve got to stop those who use the fear fueled by the COVID-19 virus to prey on people desperate to avoid the virus. In this public health emergency, consumers are entitled to accurate information. Their lives may be dependent on it,” said Feuer whose office provided screenshots showing the claims that the paste could help with coronavirus protection, the newspaper reported.

Still another alleged scam involves the federal Paycheck Protection Program that was created as part of the CARES Act to provide loans to businesses to pay furloughed employees hit by the coronavirus lockdown. There have been numerous reports about abuses of the PPP, but one I’ve just learned about “takes the cake.”

It’s about a 29-year-old Miami man with four businesses who received about $3.9 million in federal PPP loans designated to help keep his businesses afloat. But the fellow reportedly got greedy and sought and received $13.45 million more. The feds ultimately learned that none of the money he received went to employees who either didn’t exist or earned a fraction of what he claimed they were paid. He was charged with bank fraud and other federal crimes that could land him in prison if he is convicted.

What did he do with the millions he received from the PPP loans? He purchased a blue Lamborghini Huracan Evo for $318,497, gave $60,000 to someone listed as “Mom,” and thousands more to Saks Fifth Avenue, a jewelry store, an upscale Miami hotel and other expensive pursuits. How did the fellow get nabbed? He got into a hit-and-run accident in his blue Lamborghini. The Miami cops impounded the car which attracted the attention of federal investigators and, as they say, “the rest is history.”

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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