By Brad Stager

A global pandemic is just the kind of opportunity to exploit other people that criminals are loath to waste. Fortunately, resources from local law enforcement to state agencies are available to help avoid getting scammed.

A flow of money like the economic stimulus checks sent to individuals and businesses from the federal as well as some local governments is something that can attract criminals.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said people should be careful of clicking on email links or responding to phone calls that claim to help process such payments, even if someone says they are from the IRS.

“Remember, no government agency will ever ask you to pay money to get your stimulus check faster,” said Chronister in a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office press release.

Chronister added that people should continue to be vigilant about personal information, like their social security number.

“Following these tips will help keep you and your money safe,” he said.

Spending money in a time of crisis has its own perils, according to Florida Attorney General and Plant City native Ashley Moody. She said a lot of online companies are preying on peoples’ needs for things like personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not delivering the goods.

“This is outright fraud. It’s criminal and we will not tolerate it in Florida,” said Moody in a press release. “Imposters are exploiting this crisis and scamming Floridians trying to purchase vital PPE to protect their health and stop the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, we have received reports of several of these fraudulent websites that purport to be associated with locations in Florida and are working with website domain hosts to have these sites removed and evidence preserved.”

Moody recommends researching a company before buying online and taking advantage of consumer protections that credit cards offer over cash or debit transactions.

If you are a victim of PPE fraud, you can contact the Florida Attorney General’s office by calling 1-866-9NO-SCAM or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com, where you can also report suspected price gouging by businesses.

Other useful websites are coronavirus.gov, which has the latest information from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and ftc.gov for consumer and business information from the Federal Trade Commission.