- Coronavirus-related scams have cost Americans nearly $39 million, according to a report from the FTC.
- The SEC has also seen increased complaints about misconduct as a result of the pandemic, noting that fraudsters often “exploit difficult situations” for their own financial gain.
- Some scams include robotexts pretending to be the IRS, which lure people to give their information under the belief that it will allow them to receive their stimulus check.
- In one case, a man was arrested for allegedly attempting to defraud New York City out of $45 million in a scheme to sell protective gear, that was not even in his possession, at a jacked rate.
FTC Says Americans Lost $39 Million
As the novel coronavirus has spread throughout the United States, so have scams relating to the pandemic, leading to millions of dollars lost and, in some cases, arrests.
Federal Trade Commission says they have received over 52,000 complaints related to the coronavirus, resulting in Americans losing nearly $39 million in scams. The majority of their complaints are about fraud, and of all the fraud complaints they receive, roughly 45% resulted in a financial loss. Their report, which was released on May 21, states that the median loss per person is $470.
Many of the scams have to do with travel and vacation. There were 8,196 reports pertaining to this kind of scam, resulting in $14,239 lost. Online shopping trailed behind as the second most reported scam, as well as the second-highest loss.
People aged 30-39 lead the pack in reporting this behavior, followed by people aged 40-49. However, the age groups that ended up losing the most money were the 60-69 age bracket, followed by those who are 50-59.
SEC Complaints Increase
The FTC is not alone in fielding COVID-19-related complaints. According to Reuters the Security and Exchange Commission says they have seen 4,000 complaints from mid-March to mid-May, which is a 35% increase from that same time period last year.
“Unfortunately, fraudsters often seek to exploit difficult situations like the ongoing pandemic for their own gain,” one SEC spokesperson told Reuters.
The SEC believes that this has to do with the increase in complaints, and that the far-reaching scale of this crisis has created an influx of misconduct.
Reuters’ report indicated that the SEC also thinks the complaints can be attributed to an increase in whistleblowers due to unemployment. They say that many of their tips come from people recently laid off reporting on issues with their former employers. Because they are no longer employed by these companies, they no longer fear facing punishment at work and are freer to speak.
The SEC is expecting to deal with a variety of misconduct, which could include “loan fraud, price-gouging, counterfeit or substandard medical goods, or healthcare fraud.”
Right now, they’ve created a new group that looks out for misconduct. The efforts of this group have led to the suspension of trading in “31 so-called penny stocks for allegedly touting dubious COVID-19 cures, tests, treatments and medical supplies to investors.”
The SEC told Reuters that they charged two organizations related to this, Applied BioSciences Corp and Turbo Global Partners Inc.
COVID-19 Scams Uncovered
As for what kind of scams people should be on the lookout for in their day-to-day lives, CNBC warned of a new robotext scam that is fooling people into thinking they were communicating with the Internal Revenue Service.
The text states the IRS needs you to confirm information about your stimulus check. It then takes you to a realistic-looking IRS website that asks for personal details like your Social Security number. CNBC says that after this, to make the scam look all the more legitimate, it takes you to the real IRS website.
However, it’s not just robot messages and calls landing people in hot water. In New York, the Department of Justice arrested a man who had a massive scheme to defraud the city of $45 million dollars.
The man, who has been identified as a used car salesman in New Jersey named Ronald Romano, allegedly attempted to “deceive and price gouge New York City into paying him and his co-conspirators approximately $45 million for personal protective equipment that Romano did not possess and was not authorized to sell.”
This scam allegedly began in February, when Romano tried to obtain mass quantities of personal protective equipment for resale, like N95 respirators.
In March he created a fake letter saying his company was authorized to sell all of this PPE. A statement from the DOJ says that brokers on his behalf approached the city, “which at the time was in critical need of legitimate, potentially lifesaving PPE, including respirators, in order to supply frontline healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
Romano and his conspirators allegedly made many false representations about their PPE and had fake references. He had plans to jack the prices of the PPE significantly.
“Romano hoped to get profit quickly through the scheme,” the statement said. “As he described in a message to a co-conspirator, ‘I’m working on a few deals that if I get any of them you might be buying a Ferrari.’”
Romano was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to violate the Defense Production Act. The first two charges each carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 30 years while the last has a maximum of just one year.
“At a time when the pandemic was ravaging New York City, this defendant greedily preyed on the City’s desperate need for protective equipment to stop the spread of the virus,” said Margaret Garnett, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigations. “There is no tolerance, at any time, in particular during this crisis, for individuals who seek to victimize this City by holding essential workers’ safety hostage to price-gouging and fraud.”
Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates
The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.
Same War, New Battlefield
Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.
Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.
Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.
Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources.
Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.
According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.
Xbox Under Fire
To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture.
While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.
“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.
“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,” Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.
Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”
The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.” That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want
Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.
The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.
“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)
Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools
Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.
Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.
The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.
One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.
Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.
In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.
OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications.
In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported.
NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.
“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others,“ it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.”
Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools.
In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.
See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)
Mass Shootings in Half Moon Bay, Oakland Rock California
Just since Saturday, at least 19 people have been killed and 17 have been injured in mass shootings in California.
California Sees Third Attack in Under a Week
Two California localities experienced separate mass shootings Monday, just days after an attacker killed 11 and injured nine others in a suburb of Los Angeles.
The first of the most recent shootings took place in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 30 miles outside of San Francisco, where a gunman killed seven and critically injured an eighth at two different locations.
According to authorities, police were dispatched to the first location around 2:20 pm and found four people shot to death and a fifth victim also suffering gunshot wounds. Shortly after, three more people were found dead at another site nearby.
About two hours later, police discovered the suspect in his car in the parking lot of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation with a semiautomatic handgun in the vehicle that officials later confirmed he had purchased legally.
Sheriff Christina Corpus said the man was taken into custody “without incident” and is “fully cooperating.” He has been identified as a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident of Asian descent.
Currently, the gunman’s motive is unknown, but the Sheriff told reporters Monday that both of the locations he targeted were nurseries, and it has since been reported that they were mushroom farms.
“All evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence. The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, is where the subject was employed,” Corpus said in a press conference Tuesday, though she added that, so far, the “only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”
As of writing, it remains unclear why he targeted the second location. A mushroom farm called Concord Farms has told reporters that it was the site of the second shooting — which a law enforcement official confirmed to The Washington Post.
In a statement to the media, a spokesperson said the farm had “no past knowledge” of the alleged gunman or his possible motives. Little has been released about the victims, though Corpus said Tuesday they were all adults and a “mixture of Asian and Hispanic descent,” some of whom were migrants.
Authorities had previously stated that, because people both live and work on the farms, children were among those who witnessed the shooting. However, on Tuesday, one official walked that back and said while children were indeed in the vicinity, police do not have information about specific witnesses.
Just hours after the violence in Half Moon Bay, seven people were injured, and one other was killed during a shooting at a gas station in Oakland. Very little has been reported about the incident, but police have said that the shooting was “between several individuals.”
Renewed Calls for Gun Control
Californians continue to reel from the rapid succession of mass shootings in a state known for its strict gun control laws.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence, the state ranks No. 1 in the country for gun law strength. An analysis led by the organization found that California has the sixth-lowest rate of gun ownership and the eighth-lowest gun death rate.
Many of California’s top lawmakers have argued that the state’s relatively low gun violence statistics emphasize the need for more federal regulations.
“The Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News in an interview.
“We’ll continue to find whatever loopholes we can and continue to lead the national conversation on gun safety reform. And the data bares out. It works. It saves lives,” he continued. “California’s 37% lower than the death rate of the rest of the nation, and yet, with all that evidence, no one on the other side seems to give a damn. I can’t get anything done in Congress.”
Following the Monterey Park shooting, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), alongside other Democratic colleagues, introduced two gun control bills in the upper chamber. The first would ban assault weapons, while the second aims to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.
President Joe Biden quickly threw his support behind the measures, urging Congress to pass them.
“The majority of the American people agree with this commonsense action,” he said in a statement Monday. “There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation.”
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