Sunday, September 26, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 30

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 8th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 6

Coronavirus-related scams pop up across Santa Barbara County

By Malea Martin

Scammers have followed the spread of COVID-19, taking advantage of a bad situation and targeting those who don’t know better. According to District Attorney Joyce Dudley, it’s not the first time Santa Barbara County has seen a public disaster lead to fraudulent activity.

“During the fire, I did see specific ones that were geared toward people who were rebuilding their home,” Dudley told the Sun, referring to the Thomas Fire that ravaged more than a thousand buildings in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

This time around, things are a little different: The pandemic has—as the word suggests—spread worldwide, meaning scammers can work across borders and on a far larger scale. But Dudley said scams and misinformation can still be targeted toward certain groups in an effort to convince as many people as possible. 

“I received one that was going around from a Stanford medical professor describing symptoms and it seemed so reasonable—I got it from two friends of mine, both who were Stanford graduates,” she said. “I had every reason to believe it was accurate, and I sent it to a few more people. Then somebody wrote back to me and said, ‘This doesn’t seem right.’ They took the name of the article, put it in Google, and then Google immediately said it was a scam.”

Dudley also said that some scams will target people’s emotions. A scammer might use someone’s last name to convince them that they have a family member who needs money sent to them, using COVID-19 as the reasoning behind it, she said.

“The scams will be everything from ‘here’s the treatment’ to ‘here’s the cure’ to ‘buy this, buy that.’ You have to be skeptical about everything,” Dudley said, and particularly wary of “any website that asks for any personal information: driver’s license, credit card, Social Security number.”

Dudley emphasized that right now is an unprecedented time for fake news because people are isolated at home, limiting their access to information.

“I think that people are so dependent on the internet now in a way they’ve never been before,” Dudley said. “Normally, if they read about something on the internet, they get together with their friends at work, or school, and they talk about something. Now, because people aren’t physically getting together. … they’re more likely to believe something that’s on the internet without filtering it in their mind.”

But not all scams look like the classic automated telephone call, unsourced article, or an email riddled with misspelled words. Some might be around the corner at your local store in the form of price gouging.

“Price gouging is very local,” Dudley said. “From the time a disaster is named by the governor, you can’t raise the price of that object more than 10 percent.”

In times like these, though, increased prices are not always a mark of crime. Dudley said that in many cases, the stores that raise their prices are only doing so because their manufacturer or distributor upped their costs.

“A lot of the ones that we’ve looked into, they were legitimately being gouged by their providers, and they’re able to show the proof of the incredible prices they have to pay, so their markup is not more than the 10 percent,” Dudley said. “We’re continuing to get those reports and continuing to follow up on them.” 

Weekly Poll
What are the most important conversations to be having right now when it comes to policing?

We need to address how racial bias influences policing.
We should focus on funding the police so they can do their job.
Mental health is where our dollars need to go, both in and out of the police department.
As one Sept. 20 community input meeting attendee said, 'Let’s get back to the Old West and treat people like they should be treated.' (Interpret how you will.)

| Poll Results

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