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How can I avoid COVID-19 scams and where can I report excessive delivery fees, price gouging, unlawful hoarding, and other COVID-19 scams?
To report any instance of unlawful or misleading activities related to COVID-19, file a complaint online with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs or call 973-504-6240.
To learn more about COVID-19-related scams and rumors, visit the COVID-19 Rumor Control and Disinformation site created by New Jersey law enforcement and various emergency preparedness entities.
Note: Violations of Executive Orders should still be reported at https://covid19.nj.gov/violation.
Unlawful activities include:
Excessive Third-Party Delivery Service Fees
- A new law places limits on service fees charged to restaurants by third-party delivery apps and websites during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
- Under the law, which is now in effect, third-party food takeout and delivery service apps and websites cannot charge service fees greater than 20 percent of the cost of the individual order or greater than 10 percent of the cost of the individual order, when the order is delivered by an employee of the restaurant or an independent contractor with whom the restaurant has contracted directly.
- New Jersey's law against price gouging is in effect, prohibiting excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency, or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency.
- Excessive price increases are price increases more than 10 percent higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency. See New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act for more information.
- Under a new federal law, individuals or businesses hoarding designated health and medical resources necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19 that are scarce or the supply of which would be threatened by excessive accumulation will be subject to prosecution.
- The State is also cracking down on any physician or pharmacist hoarding certain prescription drugs, or inappropriately prescribing them to friends. Administrative Order 2020-01 imposes state wide restrictions on prescribing and dispensing of drugs. This is to protect the supply of certain drugs being investigated for their potential in treating COVID-19. Violations can be reported to the State Board of Medical Examiners.
Common COVID-Related Scams
- Vaccine Scams: Scammers are attempting to illegally obtain sensitive personal information or money by offering COVID-19 vaccines. No one will have to pay for the vaccine itself in New Jersey or to register. The COVID-19 vaccine will be available without cost sharing barriers.
- Contact Tracing scams: Scammers posing as contact tracers are attempting to steal private information. New Jersey contact tracers will never ask for your social security number or sensitive financial details like your bank or credit card number.
- Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
- Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
- Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
- App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users' devices and personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as "research reports," make predictions of a specific "target price," and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
Tips on Avoiding COVID-19 Scams
The New Jersey COVID-19 Fraud Task Force, a joint federal-state effort to investigate and prosecute unlawful and misleading activities related to COVID-19, has provided several recommendations to avoid common COVID-19 related scams:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use "cdc.com" or "cdc.org" instead of "cdc.gov."
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
- Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won't hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
- Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID- 19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like "CDC" or "government" in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
For more on how to avoid scams, refer to the guidance from the New Jersey COVID-19 Fraud Task Force.
Source: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud; https://www.njhomelandsecurity.gov/covid19; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200330a.shtml; https://njconsumeraffairs.state.nj.us/file-a-complaint/?stepid=b41bbbe8-6869-ea11-80fa-005056906006&sessionid=ae6be58a-1a6d-ea11-80c8-005056ba24cd; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d79f88e4b0db3478a04405/t/5ec8475a83adba6fbbcdd687/1590183770909/Contact+Tracing+for+COVID-19+in+New+Jersey.pdf