Arkansas Attorney General Warns Public About Coronavirus Related Price Gouging And Scams

Apr 6, 2020

Rutledge said her office has seen numerous fake websites about the coronavirus pop up since the pandemic began.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

As Arkansans continue to change their routines and lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are finding new ways to take advantage of the situation and of  others for their own gain.

KUAR spoke with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge about some scams that are emerging due to COVID-19. 

Below is a transcript of the aired conversation.

Leslie Rutledge: "First of all I want to address price gouging and want to make sure Arkansans understand that price gouging laws are in effect because a state of emergency has been declared. Generally what that means is businesses or individuals cannot charge 10% more than they were before the emergency. However, it’s important for consumers to also understand that perhaps one of their grocery stores is being charged more by a vendor for eggs or meat and so they may see some of the prices going up as it relates to what the grocery store is having to pay to obtain those items. That is not price gouging by the grocery store. We are looking into vendors, but I think that’s important for Arkansans to understand."

KUAR: "And you mentioned the state of emergency, is that a state, state of emergency that’s declaring that, or is it a national one?"

Rutledge: “Well it’s both. However, Gov. Hutchinson did declare a state of emergency in the second week of March and once that state of emergency healthcare crisis went into effect, the price gouging laws were initiated. We’re also seeing a number of fake websites that have popped up. And that’s fake websites as they pertain to the coronavirus or COVID-19. I really strongly encourage Arkansans to go to known, trusted sources of information and you can link to all of those from the Arkansas [Attorney General’s website.] What we don’t want is for Arkansans going to these websites linking onto something and then being conned into giving their personal information such as their social security number information.

Once the government begins sending those checks as a result of the package that was passed in Congress to help alleviate some of the financial strains of Arkansans and Americans, that is raising more concerns with cons and scam callers calling people, claiming to be from the IRS, not only saying that they owe taxes, but now they’re beginning to say, 'We need your bank account number so we can put a direct deposit.'  And so what they’re doing is they’re getting people’s bank account numbers and social security numbers so they can go open up credit and steal their identity."

KUAR: "And what is the Attorney General’s office doing right now in response to price gouging or in response to these fake websites or calls?"

Rutledge: "We are still open and operational. We are not accepting any in-person visitors at the Attorney General’s office, but you can file a complaint or get questions online, that’s arkansasag.gov, or any of the social media platforms, or you can call us. We have received nearly 600 complaints regarding price gouging. We have almost 25-35 investigations of price gouging that we’re currently conducting. And we want people to report this to us and we will do the heavy work."

KUAR: "Who is being targeted? Is there a particular group of people that’s vulnerable to this right now?"

Rutledge: "While all Arkansans are targets of these scams, most of these con artists prey on our elderly Arkansans or retirees particularly because they know many of them are at home and as most people should be right now. But many elderly folks are at home and so [scammers] will call on their landlines where they are more susceptible. And so we really, we want…please don’t just take this information for yourself, but call your grandparents, call your parents, call elderly folks perhaps you go to church with and make sure they know that the IRS is not calling and that they are not going to be getting a phone call from them about this government check. If they go to a website, again they can go to the Attorney General’s website and we’ll link them directly to these other .gov website, because we just want to protect folks."