NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As COVID-19 scams continue to pop up in Hampton Roads and nationwide, one local sheriff’s office has created a new unit specifically tasked with fighting those crimes.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron has created the Consumer Protection Unit, to which residents can report possible COVID-19 scams.

Residents will also be able to access resources through the unit, the sheriff’s office said.

The unit will help residents learn how to protect themselves against con-artists, scammers and other criminals trying to take their money or personal information. The unit will also issue “Fraud Watch” warnings to the public.

“After witnessing first-hand how an unscrupulous sales tactic almost took advantage of my
neighbor – a sailor working hard every day to serve our country honorably, I was inspired to
create this new unit,” Sheriff Baron said. “In these uncertain times, it’s more important now
than ever that we do everything we can to ensure the livelihoods and identities of those living
in the Mermaid City are protected.”

Baron says he’s also seen a lot of fraud and scams because of coronavirus, so he is working with Deputy Mike Imprevento, who is a well-known attorney fighting for the people.

The Fraud Watch wants to connect the dots for citizens to get them help because uncertainty leads to fear — and fear can lead to bad decisions.

“Right now, fear and uncertainty is really getting people preyed upon. COVID-19 specifically: fraud, price gouging, bogus cures, at both the federal and state level,” Imprevento said.

The sheriff said the stakes can be high.

“We get all type of emails. ‘We got the cure. We got the best personal protective equipment you can use.’ If they fall for this, they will never receive the product and their money will be gone,” he said.

The Fraud Watch lists all fraud and scam alerts involving COVID-19,

“We had emails to our office trying to sell us PPEs, when we looked into it, and we realized it was a scam,” Baron said.

The site talks about drive-thru testing at Sentara Healthcare facilities, and people trying to get patient information.

Baron gave another example of one company that bought: “Thermometers to take temperatures of staff members, and they didn’t receive anything back.”

“People are being told they can be sold a COVID-19 cure and PPEs that don’t exist,” Imprevento said. “The elderly. They are so afraid. They are food insecure. They are financially insecure. They are alone many of them. They are just hot targets to get preyed upon.”

The Norfolk Police Department’s Economic Crimes Division and the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office are the primary local law enforcement, and the Consumer Protection Unit works with both agencies.

Learn more by visiting the sheriff’s office Fraud Watch website.

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