State AGs Crack Down on Coronavirus Scams

By: - March 13, 2020 12:00 am

A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for testing in New York. Attorneys general across the country are warning consumers not to be taken in by ads for fake cures or bad “sanitizers.” John Minchillo/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

From disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker in Missouri to a convenience store operator in New Jersey, suspected fraudsters are trying to take advantage of the coronavirus panic to trick consumers into buying useless or harmful products, triggering state anti-gouging laws and anti-fraud efforts by state attorneys general.

“When people are desperate and afraid, they are more likely to make a bad financial decision,” Democratic North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, co-chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General Consumer Protection Committee, said in an interview with Stateline.

His advice to consumers? “Don’t fall for miracle cures.” No cure or vaccine yet exists for coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bakker, who operates out of Branson, Missouri, was hawking just such a “miracle” cure until GOP Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt’s office filed a lawsuit to shut it down this week.

Bakker’s “silver solution” was touted as a cure not only for coronavirus, but also for other ailments. He has sold the colloidal silver products for up to $125. As of Thursday, the item was no longer available on Bakker’s website, but a search turned up several items touting the “benefits” of silver solution. Bakker went to prison in 1991 on fraud and conspiracy charges, but he was paroled in 1994 and has reconstituted his televangelist career.

While the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration also have pursued Bakker, states are able to act quickly because they are on the ground near where the frauds are happening. In the Bakker case, Missouri was familiar with Bakker’s ministry and swooped in Tuesday, said Schmidt’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.