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Viruses are not the Only Dangers That Lurk in Times of Crisis

Crises can bring out the best in people. In times of war, natural disasters, or pandemics like COVID-19, heroic individuals always seem to rise to the occasion. 

All across Ohio, brave healthcare workers and first responders are putting their lives on the line to care for the sick, despite the all-too-frequent shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).  Grocery store employees and delivery workers are working long, exhausting hours to get needed food and supplies into the hands of Ohioans sequestered at home.

Sadly, crises can also tempt those with unscrupulous motives to take advantage of the situation for personal gain. For that reason, all consumers – individuals, businesses, and governmental purchasers – need to be alert and aware of the possibility of this kind of wrongdoing and to report it immediately if it occurs. Government agencies and political subdivisions should be especially watchful for the following types of schemes.

Schemes targeting government bodies:

Government purchasers suffer the effects of market shortages just as much as individual consumers do. And in times of crisis, vulnerable citizens turn to government agencies, to state university hospitals, and to public assistance programs for goods and services more than ever. Take the current shortage of respirator masks, for example. This form of PPE is vital equipment for busy EMS squads, emergency room personnel, nurses, and doctors and thus is in extremely high demand at present. State and local government entities across the country, along with private healthcare providers, are desperately searching for supplies of respirator masks for their employees to no avail. Product hoarders intent on profiteering from the crisis are increasing the shortages exponentially. Spikes in demand combined with insufficient supply are a formula for drastic price increases. 

Critical shortages and rising prices can trigger unsolicited e-mail messages from unfamiliar companies offering to supply the needed goods. Such offers should be treated cautiously, however. While they could be legitimate, they also could be: (1) tempting, authentic-looking e-mails containing links that inject harmful malware into your system with a single click of your mouse; or (2) offers that promise to deliver goods of a certain standard or certification but in reality deliver shoddy or even counterfeit products. Bad actors are counting on the fact that you will be distracted enough by the crisis at hand to let down your guard. Government enforcers are seeing an uptick in both types of fraudulent solicitation.

No matter how severe a shortage you are facing, give a second and third look at any unsolicited offer. Be sure your organization’s anti-virus and anti-malware software is up-to-date, and seek the advice of an IT security professional if you have any doubts before clicking a link. If an unsolicited offer comes from a completely unknown source, do some checking on the web to see if they appear to be legitimate.  Call the seller (don’t e-mail using their links) and ask for references.

For those agencies who may have grant monies to administer during or after this crisis, remember that large pots of grant monies motivate bid-riggers and fraudulent applicants to make a play for funds that rightfully belong to others. Scrutinize those bids and applications carefully for any irregularity, ask questions, and disqualify those that fail to provide complete information.

Reporting suspected fraudulent or illegal activity:

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the United States Department of Justice are partnering to stop the unethical few from taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to profit at the expense of the public that you serve.  We encourage you to report suspected scams to or Those scams could include:

  • Hoarding and resale at greatly inflated prices of PPE or other products in critical shortage;
  • Sales of counterfeit PPE, testing kits, or similar products;
  • Suspected bid-rigging or fraudulent grant applications; or
  • Marketing of claimed COVID-19 cures, vaccines, or treatments.
We need your help in finding and stopping fraudulent and anticompetitive schemes. We’re in this together!