Wisconsinites complain of phishing, scams, fraud amid pandemic

Scammers aren’t taking a break because of the coronavirus. In many cases, they’re doubling down.

In some cases, people targeted by scammers filed complaint forms with Wisconsin Consumer Protection. Records released to Contact 6 reveal concerns about phishing attempts, fraudulent work-from-home opportunities and false advertising.

Christine Brown wanted to add an African gray parrot to the small flock inside her Burlington home. Brown ordered a bird online once before, so she felt comfortable sending money to a farm she found on Google. After sending nearly $1,000 in gift cards, Brown became concerned it was a scam. She was asked to send another $1,500 to cover shipping.

Christine Brown

Christine Brown

"I get this email saying the freight company wanted another 15-hundred dollars," said Brown.

Brown filed a complaint form with Contact 6.

The online pet scam has skyrocketed amid the pandemic, but it’s hardly the only one. There was also a rash of scams involving products in short supply, like PPE. There were scams involving stimulus checks and fake contact tracers, and impersonators of all sorts.

"Especially government agencies, the CDC, the world health organization, the small business administration," said Lisa Schiller of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Wisconsin.

Lisa Schiller

Lisa Schiller

Scammers are constantly looking for excuses to reach out to you and solicit money or personal information. Schiller says this past year has provided plenty of opportunity,

"It's been a crazy year and definitely unprecedented," said Schiller.

Which scams targeted Wisconsinites? Consumer complaints filed with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection offer some insight into the possible COVID-19 scams irritating the Badger State.

One complaint form claims "someone is impersonating our business … regarding N95 mask offerings". Another complaint form describes a Facebook message offering a "$60,000 free pandemic grant".

One complainant included a copy of an email offering a "work from home" opportunity. The job required purchasing N95 face masks.

Two complaints raised concerns about "possible phishing" test messages that offered help getting stimulus checks.

One complainant claimed that "false claims" were being made by a local business, about "supplements that can boost the immune system."

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"Telling people they could take various product, various medicines, that's going to help you with COVID 19," said Lara Sutherlin, administrator of Wisconsin Consumer Protection, of this type of "miracle cure" scam.

Lara Sutherlin

Lara Sutherlin

Sutherlin says scammers targeted people in Wisconsin who wanted protection from COVID-19, needed financial help, or, in Brown’s case, wanted a new companion.

The top scams of the pandemic, according to the Federal Trade Commission, include imposter scams, online shopping scams and scam phone calls. Romance scams have also gone up during the coronavirus.


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