WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, led a hearing on curbing COVID scams. The hearing highlighted the troubling rise of scams related to COVID, and how Americans can better protect themselves against fraudsters.
*Click here to watch the Senator’s remarks*
Remarks as Prepared
People are spending more time online than ever before – whether it’s for work, school, or connecting with family and friends – chances are you spend most of your day in front of a screen now. Unfortunately, the fraudsters are wise to this, and they’re meeting victims where they are most vulnerable – on the internet. We’ve seen this in several arenas. Even in the earliest days of the pandemic, it was difficult for people to get accurate information about the nature of the virus, how severe it was, where it started and how it spreads. This disinformation took on a life of its own, becoming essentially a “media pathogen.” It’s no surprise that when PPE items and household cleaners ran out at stores across the country, buyers flocked to the internet.
Tennessee has taken the lead in cracking down on some of the most high profile scandals in this space. In the first consumer action brought by any state Attorney General’s office in response to COVID-19, Tennessee shut down a hoarding and price-gouging operation that deprived rural east Tennessee and eastern Kentucky of hand sanitizer and other essential cleaning supplies.
Another Tennessee company falsely claimed that its products could protect surfaces from COVID for 90 days, falsely claimed that its products were FDA and EPA approved, and falsely implied that it had been used by companies like McDonald’s and Panda Express. The Attorney General’s Office immediately launched an investigation. The company settled, paying a $5000 fine and promising to stop making false and misleading claims.
Individual consumers weren’t the only victims of scam artists. Our own federal government has been defrauded in countless instances. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has saved thousands of small businesses and kept hundreds of thousands of people on the payroll when the economy came to a standstill. However, according to a report issued by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General, nearly 55,000 loans were made to potentially ineligible businesses, totaling more than $7 billion.