AG warns of COVID-related scams in roundtable teleconference

BUCKHANNON – On Monday, May 4, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hosted a round table conference call with folks who live, work and own businesses in Randolph, Taylor, Tucker and Upshur counties.

The subject matter focused on West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s executive orders, county emergency declarations and how they intersect with the governor’s orders, how the state is dealing with questions from citizens, public health and safety, price gouging and consumer issues.

Morrisey said reopening the state is a particularly challenging issue.

“As we work to reopen and get to a better place, I think there will be a lot of things we are going to have to overcome as we get to the next phase of this,” he said. “We are grateful to do everything we can on our end to help you out.”

Morrisey said if folks need help, they can call 1-800-368-8808 or go online at www.wvago.gov.

“If you want to ask a question, you can submit it in our question box at covid19@wvago.gov,” he said. “Let us know, and we will try to be as helpful as possible to you in order to make sure we are getting this done the right way.”

He said his office has received more than 850 phone calls related to the integrity of the supply channel and price gouging allegations.

“As of now, we have issued more than 30 different cease-and-desist letters and subpoenas,” Morrisey said. “We want to get it right. When the price goes up 10 percent or more during a state of emergency, the price gouging laws take effect. We have to make sure we are enforcing various issues that arise.”

“One of the exceptions to the price gouging statute is when a grocer or retail establishment is just passing along the price of the product from the supplier – that is where we have to look at these to make sure we are accurate. Everyone deserves a fair hearing,” he added.

Morrisey said along with price gouging, his office is researching a lot of scam issues.

“Scams are emerging in three core areas – the utility scams, the stimulus scams and the PPE scams,” he said. “In each those cases, we urge people to be careful. Don’t provide personal, identifiable information.”

Morrisey said he urges folks to use ‘the rule of reason.’

“People are expected to pay their bills – that is expected,” he said. “At the same time, it is important that people work with folks who have not received their stimulus or unemployment checks. Let’s do this the right way and let us think through what the plan will be for the repayment of some of the monies that will be owed. We are all in an unprecedented time.”

The next topic Morrisey discussed related to the declarations.

“People asked if the government could do this or that,” he said. “We know that the Legislature delegated broad emergency powers but those are time limited. Constitutional rights do not go out the window. We need to make sure we protect those while we are guarding the public health.”

Morrisey said the reopening plan is obviously critical.

He said as people are getting ready to go back to work and dealing with personal and financial issues, it’s advisable to develop a plan of best practices.

“This applies to public health and how you are going to handle your particular situation,” Morrisey said. “People need to take measures to protect themselves and others. We also think it is important to pick a financial plan of attack. If you have problems with your bills, make sure you are planning and communicating with all the people you are interacting with or paying bills to.”

Last, Morrisey said to plan on the human side as well.

“It is so important that we think through how we are going to get back connected while still engaging in social distancing, and handling things the same way,” he said. “Plan so you are comfortable and everyone around you is comfortable. Think that through – where you are traveling and where you are going to, so it gets done the right way. And make sure you are taking care of yourself personally in this time. This is so important.”

Local resident Charlotte Lewis asked Morrisey about people who were sick in January and February and felt they had COVID-19. Lewis asked if there was any testing available to confirm or dispute residents who were previously ill had or had been exposed to COVID-19.

Morrisey said he is not a medical doctor but speculated there could be assay tests that allow residents to determine whether they have previously had the corona virus.

“Those could be worth looking at because it is important for us to discover how prevalent this disease was,” Morrisey said. “That will tailor future responses to public health emergencies as well.”

He said he felt the assay tests would be more available in the weeks and months ahead and said he thinks a lot of people will be taking those in the future.

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