Don’t be fooled: Local, state agencies warn of coronavirus-related scams
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Amid concerns over scams relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, Routt County residents are being urged to protect their personal information and remain vigilant about suspicious phone calls and emails.
“Scammers take advantage of natural disasters and emergencies,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a recent consumer alert. “By learning how to avoid scams related to coronavirus, we can work together to ensure no one in our state is taken in by these malicious attempts to defraud Colorado consumers during this public health emergency.”
Many scams have centered around utility bills, according to the Department of Regulatory Services. Scammers have posed as utility company representatives and tried to get money or personal information by warning people their utilities will be cut off. This is not true.
On Monday, April 6, Gov. Jared Polis extended an executive order suspending gas and electric utility disconnections until April 30 to help people who have been financially impacted by the public health crisis.
Other fraudulent activity has sought to misinform the public about how the pandemic is affecting recreation in the state.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife released a statement earlier in the month after fielding an influx of reports of false social media posts and robocalls telling people that hunting and fishing seasons had been canceled. Other fraudulent information tried to make people believe hunting and fishing licenses were no longer required or that park fees had been rescinded. These claims are untrue, CPW said in the statement.
Though offices and visitor centers have closed to the public to avoid spreading COVID-19, rules and regulations remain in place. Both CPW and the U.S. Forest Service have closed recreation facilities, such as bathrooms and developed campgrounds, in certain areas. The agencies are discouraging dispersed camping.
All effects on CPW’s operations, including any changes to hunting, fishing or recreation in any of Colorado’s state parks are available on the agency’s COVID-19 page on its website, cpw.state.co.us. Information about Forest Service operations and closures amid the pandemic is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/about-agency/covid19-updates.
In anticipation of a further influx in scam cases relating to the issuance of federal stimulus money to qualifying citizens, the IRS is warning people to be particularly vigilant about falling for such crimes. In about two weeks, people should start receiving this money either through direct deposit or as a check in the mail.
“What we are trying to do is prevent people from falling prey to a scammer who is trying to get a hold of this money,” said Special Agent Karen Gurgel with the IRS Denver Field Office.
Scammers may pose as IRS employees and demand, via email or phone call, that people send their personal information, Gurgel explained. The scammers would then use that information to steal the stimulus money.
People also could receive fake checks in the mail, Gurgel added. Because the stimulus money has not been distributed yet, any checks people may have received that claim to be from the stimulus package are fraudulent. In such cases, Gurgel said scammers would try to contact recipients about the fake check in an effort to steal personal information or get people to send money to scammers.
The IRS would never ask for people’s information or request money over email or phone calls, Gurgel emphasized.
People can report these types of scams to the Colorado IRS office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local law enforcement agencies have not received any reports of such scams yet, according to Commander Jerry Stabile with the Steamboat Springs Police Department. He added that residents could face a greater risk in the coming weeks.
“We know many community members are spending additional time on their computers during this very unique period, which increases their chances of being targeted by scammers,” Stabile said in an email.
To avoid falling victim to a scam, people should never clink links included in suspicious emails. These links could infect people’s computers and phones with viruses.
Legitimate organizations, from the IRS to charities, also never ask people to pay bills or make donations with gift cards or wire transfers. Check the validity of charitable websites by going to charitynavigator.org or charitywatch.org.
To report scams to the Police Department, contact non-emergency dispatch at 970-879-1110.
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