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Scams proliferate as coronavirus spreads across the U.S.

By David C. Henley

The coronavirus has brought out the best and worst in our fellow Americans.

The best, thank heavens, are the most prevalent. Across Nevada and the nation, thousands have stepped forward to help those in need. These volunteers realize they have a moral obligation to assist others who, through no fault of heir own, have found themselves unable to provide food for their families, have lost their jobs, are poor, ill or are vulnerable senior citizens and shut-ins.

These wonderful people have banded together to distribute meals, household items and face masks to the less fortunate. They check in with their neighbors to see if they are well or need comfort and reassurance to battle the social isolation that impacts many of us.

We are all in his together. When the pandemic subsides and we slowly get back our lives, we’ll have many to thank for their goodness and generosity. God bless those who have helped out during this terrible crisis.

Unfortunately, there are some among us who have no decency. They have shown their cruelty toward the less fortunate by their greed and trickery. I read and hear daily about their frauds, scams and deceptions. Many are offering medical and personal protection devices such as disinfectants and face masks at inflated prices. Fake coronavirus test kits are being peddled. A man who appeared on a recent Saturday night TV show said he was taking bets on how many would die from the virus. The hucksters take advantage of people’s fears by selling pills, vaccines, food supplements and a variety of useless medical treatments online they say will prevent or cure the deadly virus. The FBI and the inspector general of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services have warned that scammer also are approaching Medicare beneficiaries to demand their Medicare numbers and other personal information in order to bill the government for medical treatment never performed or costly equipment that isn’t needed.

The Federal Trade Commission, the agency tasked with protecting American consumers from fraud and abuse, announced last week that it has fielded about 17,000 complaints of coronavirus-related deception. The FTC also warned against the purchase of fake coronavirus remedies that include the sale of a herbal concoction  called “Chinese Skullcap Root” sold by a California yogi who calls himself “Dr. Fresh.” Numerous cures that allegedly contain a silver solution to cure the virus also are sold on the Internet and through social media, and one of those reportedly selling these products is the disgraced television evangelist Jim Bakker, who spent nearly five years in prison in the 1990s for defrauding his followers into purchasing memberships and apartments in a resort hotel that catered to a Christian clientele. Bakker, who has remarried following the death of his wife, Tammy Faye, is now being pursued by a host of state and federal law enforcement agencies for promoting a “Silver Solution” that allegedly will boost one’s immune system and kill the coronavirus within 12 hours. “We’ve tested it and it works on about everything,” Bakker exclaimed during a recent TV program.

Conspiracy theories regarding the virus also are circulating.

Many of us seek explanations for horrific events we are unable to understand and control, and thus we fall prey to misinformation and outright lies spread via social media, radio and TV. For example: The virus is a product of soup made from bats, from an escaped bioweapon made in a U.S. military laboratory (this has been espoused by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni), and by anti-vaxxers who say the advent of the virus is connected to an effort to foster vaccines on them. U.S. health officials also are warning that conspiracy-spreader Alex Jones, who has pushed outrageous lies about school shootings and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is now peddling bogus coronavirus remedies such as special toothpastes and mouthwashes. Chinese authorities are spinning a tale that U.S. Army officers who visited Wuhan, China, last year purposely introduced the virus into that nation. And the Washington Times, a conservative daily newspaper published in the nation’s capital, has carried stories quoting right-wing radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh as stating that the coronavirus is no more dangerous than the common cold.

The Better Business Bureau of Northern Nevada has just sent me an email warning about  coronavirus-related “top scams” proliferating across the country that include “phishing” designed to gain access to your banking and credit card information through your computer, price gouging for the purchase of hand sanitizers, face masks and toilet paper and “charity scams” run by thieves soliciting donations for virus victims and their families.

The world has been turned upside down by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. There are malicious people out there trying to make a fast buck by feeding off the fears and confusion bred by the virus and its lack of a cure or vaccine.  But there are many more selfless, courageous volunteers  in our communities with hearts of gold. Let’s join them in their mission  to help the sick, needy and vulnerable. And let’s offer them our respect and gratitude.

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