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Be Aware: Shady dealings in the COVID-19 era

Fraud can be detrimental and a setback to your finances and your way of life for years to come. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness of what appears to be an uptick in fraudulent cases in the COVID-19 era.

In a CNBC report, journalist Greg Iacurci highlights in his report that “Covid-19 scams have cost more than 18,000 Americans a total of $13.4 million since the beginning of the year, according to the Federal Trade Commission” (Iacurci, 2020, para. 1). Inacurci also mentions that the numbers in value and the amount of victims could be much higher (Iacurci, 2020, para. 5).

Fraudulent activities are an everyday thing across the world. It is often muted or discounted until it impacts ourselves or ones we care about. As an example, I was contacted by a friend Maria who recently moved into a new home near the beautiful town of Fort Collins, Colorado. She was excited to get it ready to live in. Because of her work schedule she decided to purchase her sofa online to what appeared to be a legitimate furniture store called 1StopBedRoom, Inc. Maria saw the perfect sofa and made the purchase with trust and confidence. Within days, she discovered that the company had overdrawn her bank account double of the actual cost for the sofa. Maria immediately called the company, explained the situation, and was immediately hung up on (Maria, personal communication, May 14, 2020). As you can imagine, she was devastated and was in tears. As a friend, I felt her heartache so I did some research and what I discovered was alarming. The internet based furniture store had numerous complaints with similar accusations of overcharging.

The internet has a plethora of  information and websites to gain needed information to make a sound product decision. For example, in researching aforementioned furniture store a website called Ripoff Report showed several complaints about their business practices. In one of the complaints dated April 7th, 2020 it states, “Unscrupulous, unethical business who tries to charge customer additional fee for obscure reasons after purchase is done online” (Ripoff Report, 2020, para. 1). Another website that gave even more legitimate complaints about the company was called Complaints Board that offers unbiased complaints from past customers. In one of the complaints on the website the customer complained about 1StopBedRoom, Inc not honoring their free delivery policy (Complaints Board, 2020, para. 1).

While the complaints identified a lot about the online store Maria made her purchase at, there are legitimate product sites you should be cautious about as well. For example, online stores such as, Amazon and eBay offers products from various vendors. Both Amazon and eBay have been plagued with over hyped products with stellar reviews. The problem is the reviews are false and is often paid for or manipulated by the seller. In a CNBC article posted December 14, 2018, it discusses how Amazon retailers and its products are getting fake reviews to increase sales. According to reporter Amelia Lucas, she states, “Online shoppers look to reviews to make an informed purchase decision, but some third-party sellers are buying fake reviews to improve their search results” (Lucas, 2018, para. 1).

Websites like Amazon and eBay are transparent at exposing these retailers however, their best efforts are not fast enough. They are working with social media sites such as, Facebook and Twitter to resolve such issues. According to Forbes website, senior contributor, Emma Woollacott says, “Facebook has removed 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts”. Moreover, in discussing Facebook she states, “it’s testing systems to automatically detect and remove fake reviews” (Woollacott, 2020, para. 3).

When you face a similar situation like Maria, here are a few suggestions you can do to help mitigate any suspected fraud:

  • As mentioned above, research the internet to check if there are other customers having the same or other complaints.
  • If funds has been exchanged, call your bank immediately to report the suspected fraud. In most cases your bank will give you more information to help resolve the problem. Likewise, if it is payment gateways such as PayPal by launching a complaint it will usually results in the merchant being blocked for future transactions until the complaint is resolved.
  • Lastly, report such complaints to organizations such as, the Better Business Bureau, and the Consumer Affairs. Both organizations can often be a mediator to help get a response from the company.

In conclusion, with the unemployment at a high, smart people who are jobless has more time to invent complex schemes to take the vulnerable of their hard earned income. In the instances of the furniture store there are websites that look legit (has great graphics, has phone numbers, addresses) when in fact they are covers for taking your money. While the complaint websites allows for anyone to post their grievances, be mindful that the complaints are subjective. Overall,  be a judge for yourself on deciding the merits of the store whether it be online or a brick-and-mortar business.

The moral of this situation is do your due diligence and research the product, website, or company.

For more information on reporting fraud please look at the references below. I would like to thank Maria for sharing her story as she has inspired me to produce this article and podcast episode to help you, my followers be bettered informed. I certainly welcome your input and any resources you might have to help another person out.

I will end this episode and article with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson where he states, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well” (Emerson, 2019, para. 1).

References

Complaints Board. (2020). 1StopBedrooms. Retrieved from https://www.complaintsboard.com/1stopbedrooms-b127427

Emerson, R. W. (2019, February 18). Ralph Waldo Emerson: On love, beauty and the purpose of life [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://excellencereporter.com/2019/02/18/ralph-waldo-emerson-on-love-beauty-and-the-purpose-of-life/

Iacurci, G. (2020). Americans have lost $13.4 million to fraud linked to Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/15/americans-have-lost-13point4-million-to-fraud-linked-to-covid-19.html

Lucas, A. (2018). Amazon has a problem with fake reviews — here’s how holiday shoppers can avoid falling for them. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/14/heres-how-online-shoppers-can-avoid-falling-for-fake-reviews.html

Ripoff Report. (2020). Complaint review: 1 stop bedrooms – Los Angeles CA. Retrieved from https://www.ripoffreport.com/report/stop-bedrooms/los-angeles-ca-dotcom-didnt-1493807

Woollacott, E. (2020). Facebook and EBay promise crackdown on fake reviews. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2020/01/08/facebook-and-ebay-promise-crackdown-on-fake-reviews/#279e5ff33368

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