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AG's Office Receives New COVID-19 Scam Report, More Than 800 Price-gouging Complaints

LANSING – The Michigan Department of Attorney General has surpassed 800 consumer complaints of price-gouging related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), as the office today received a complaint of a new COVID-19 scam making an appearance in Michigan. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office has sent another business a cease and desist letter for selling high-priced face masks.

An Oakland County resident reported being contacted via phone by scammers who said they could provide a COVID-19 test kit, so long as the individual prepaid for the item. The person immediately recognized it as a scam and contacted the Attorney General’s office.

“Pre-paying for products that never arrive is only one method scammers will use to rob people of their hard-earned money or to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims,” Nessel said. “We may start to see more scams related to COVID-19, and I urge Michiganders to remain vigilant. We must not fall victim to these predatory practices.”

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Attorney General’s office had received 823 complaints of businesses price-gouging, up from the 572 that were recorded by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The Consumer Protection intake team has taken 462 price-gouging complaints by phone since 11 a.m. Monday, when the Attorney General’s office began taking complaints via phone. Generally, complaints are received electronically, of which there have been 361 related to price-gouging in roughly the past two weeks.

The Attorney General’s office today sent a cease and desist letter to Norkan Inc., a Warren-based business, for selling a 10-pack of face masks on its website for nearly $80. Similar products are being offered at other retailers for around $23.

Attorney General Nessel has taken action against several companies for alleged price-gouging practices and one individual who was reportedly selling face masks online through eBay for exceptionally high prices.

Nessel’s Consumer Protection intake team has been continuing to gather complaints submitted electronically and through the Consumer Protection tip line, 877-765-8388. Hours of operation for the phone line are generally from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Operations have been extended until 7 p.m. today and Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The department’s employees, including Attorney General Nessel herself, have been helping the Consumer Protection team to staff the phone lines due to the high volume of calls coming in.

“I am exceptionally proud of the teamwork displayed by the dedicated staff in the Attorney General’s office and the collaborative culture demonstrated by all of our state departments and agencies,” Nessel said. “Supporting each other in times like this public health emergency is what we should be doing, not grossly inflating the price of essential products or attempting to scam one another. We will investigate, prosecute and hold accountable those who break the law to ensure Michiganders are not taken advantage of during this crisis.”

The Attorney General’s office today also alerted residents that some scammers were interfering with at least one local public health department’s ability to respond to COVID-19 concerns.   

Michigan residents are urged to report any violation of the Consumer Protection Act online or by calling 877-765-8388.

Information around the COVID-19 outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest public health information is available online at a state website focused on the issue, and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.