There are plenty of heartwarming stories of people rising to the occasion during the coronavirus pandemic, but Maine’s top securities regulator said such calamities also can bring out the worst in some people.

Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw said scammers are likely to come out of the woodwork to profit from the crisis by preying on people’s hopes and fears.

“People will try to take advantage and leverage the disasters as an opportunity to feed on these emotions,” Shaw said.

Similar scams have arisen after other catastrophes, she said. For instance, after a hurricane scammers might say they run a construction company and need money to ramp up operations to respond to the devastation, soliciting investments in fraudulent schemes, Shaw said.

She warned Mainers to be wary now of those claiming to be selling a cure or vaccine for coronavirus. There are none on the market, Shaw said, and they may take a year or more to develop.

“Not surprisingly, the vaccines being sold by online pharmacies are not real,” the state Office of Securities said in its guidance to consumers. “You should not send money or make payments over the phone to anyone claiming they can prevent COVID-19, have a vaccine or other preventive medicine.”


Some scammers may call posing as representatives of charities soliciting donations for those affected by COVID-19, Shaw said. Mainers should independently check out any charity claiming to be raising money for coronavirus victims or health care professionals who are caring for them, she said. Consumers also should avoid online solicitations of cash and gift cards, as those schemes have become a popular way for scammers to steal money.

Another potential scam involves false promises of government aid, the securities office said. While the federal government can send checks to the public as part of an economic stimulus effort, it will never require prepayment of fees, taxes on the income, advance payment of a processing fee or any other type of charge, the office said.

“Anyone who demands prepayment will almost certainly steal your money,” it said.

Shaw’s office hasn’t received any reports yet of the scams taking place in Maine, although she warned that those reports often take weeks or months to surface. They range from small – robocalls offering coronavirus vaccines, cures or tests – to larger schemes to attract investments in fake efforts to manufacture scarce personal protective equipment such as face masks, latex gloves and surgical gowns, or the ventilators required to treat COVID-19 patients who have become seriously ill.

Others may seek to prey on worries about the stock market by offering to sell gold or silver as a hedge against volatile securities, Shaw said. People considering those investments, she said, must ask the right questions to make sure they know what they’re getting into.

Consumers should ask questions about the fees being charged and the ability of an investor to sell any holdings quickly, she said. Those buying stocks are often advised to buy and hold, and not react to sudden dips or rises in stock prices. But investing in precious metals often requires a different mentality, Shaw said, and the ability to quickly sell any holdings is often imperative.


Shaw said her office can provide the questions those considering such investments should ask, and members of the public also can make sure investment advisers are properly licensed in the state or if complaints have been filed against them. The number for her office is 877-624-8551.

The securities office also pointed out that the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission has a database of investment adviser’s public disclosure forms, where investors can get information on people who are selling investments. The site also includes information on some advisers who don’t have to register with state or federal authorities but do have to file forms with the SEC.

Private placement deals that some advisers offer are particularly worrisome because, unlike stocks and bonds sold in public markets, those investments aren’t subject to review by federal or state regulators, Shaw said.

And some unscrupulous investment advisers promote real estate deals as “can’t miss” investments, but real estate prices can be affected by the economy and, like any investment, can gain or lose value, Shaw’s office said.

Shaw also warned that scammers may use email “phishing” expeditions to target the $1,200 relief checks that the federal government is expected to send out soon, she said. Scammers are likely to seek Social Security numbers or other personal information, allegedly to help process the checks, and attachments to emails can steal data from a computer or lock it up for a ransom.

Shaw said such scams have been discovered in other states, and it’s likely only a matter of time before they reach Maine.

“When scammers get shut down in one state, they’re just going to go across the country,” she said.

Stay-at-home orders, imposed in Maine and many states across the country, make some people especially vulnerable to scammers, Shaw said. Scammers may seek to ingratiate themselves with repeated calls to people, allegedly to check on how they are doing, while also seeking to sell them something or solicit investment in a business.

Shaw suggested that relatives of those self-quarantining, particularly the elderly, check on their relatives frequently and ask if they’ve been approached by people seeking to sell them items or to invest their savings.

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