During a recent visit to a local big box retailer, two men were overheard plotting about how they wanted to buy 30 large packages of toilet paper to sell and “make some good money.” Fortunately, the store only allowed one package per customer, foiling their apparent scheme to gouge people in search of scarce goods and profit off their desperation.

During these turbulent times, fraudsters are working overtime to rip off consumers. Store shelves are bare of paper products, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies and many canned and dried food items, such as soup and rice.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia’s anti-price gouging statutes, which are designed to protect consumers from paying “unconscionable prices” for necessary goods and services during an emergency, according to Attorney General Mark Herring’s office. This would cover such items as water, food and medicine.

Don’t be scammed. Fraudsters are in full press now. They’re setting up fake websites and social media accounts. They’re promising cures, selling high-demand supplies and soliciting donations. Consumers who want to file a complaint or want more information can contact the consumer protection section of the Attorney General’s office at consumer@oag.state.va.us or by phone at (800) 552-9963.

Herring’s office offers these tips to protect yourself from coronavirus scams:

Look out for emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the coronavirus. Instead, if you have questions, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov or the World Health Organization at: www.who.int

Don’t click on any links from unknown sources. You could download a computer virus on your device.

Ignore any offers, online or otherwise, for a coronavirus vaccine.

Thoroughly research any organizations or charities purporting to be raising money for victims of the coronavirus.

Look out for “investment opportunities” surrounding the coronavirus.

Be safe, be healthy and be aware of consumer fraud during this public health crisis.

—Pamela Stallsmith

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