Price gouging, scams accompany virus

North Carolina consumers have submitted more than 1,200 price-gouging complaints since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including several complaints about price gouging involving companies based in Hoke.

None of the complaints have come from people who live in Hoke County, according to information from the N.C. Department of Justice. The News-Journal requested further information Monday from the NCDOJ about the complaints involving businesses operating in Hoke, but has not yet received a response.

Nearly three-quarters of all the reports were about price gouging on groceries or cleaning products. A number of others involved price gouging complaints for sanitizer, fuel or travel.

Consumers can submit a complaint at http://NCDOJ.gov or 877-5-NO-SCAM so that the NCDOJ office can investigate and take action if necessary.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein also warned citizens of online scams in particular.

“During March 2020, at least 100,000 new domain names were registered containing terms like ‘covid,’ ‘corona,’ and ‘virus,’ plus more domains registered to sell items such as medical masks. Beyond this, other domains were used to spam out advertisements for COVID-themed scams. These websites are set up to spread misinformation and potentially steal people’s personal data,” Stein’s office warned on social media.

Stein said his office is investigating nine online sellers over price gouging concerns.

“If we conclude that they are violating the law, I will take action against them for trying to prey on North Carolinians in a time of crisis,” he wrote in a statement.

“As my office learns about scams that are on the rise from our federal and state partners or from customers, we are letting you know so you can be on the lookout and avoid losing your money. Be wary of door-to-door scammers or anyone selling home COVID-19 testing kits, miracle cures, or other unsolicited offers. And safeguard any federal relief payments that many of you will receive in the coming weeks – don’t fall for robocalls, texts, or phishing emails that will give scammers access to your finances or personal information.”

Learn more about how stimulus checks will be distributed at irs.gov/coronavirus.