Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, introduced legislation today to address the growing threat of COVID-19 related scams.
The Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020 would hold bad actors accountable for defrauding consumers during the current public health emergency.
U.S. Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Ed Case (D-HI), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Peter Welch (D-VT), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Marc Veasey (D-TX) are original cosponsors of the bill. U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) will introduce its companion legislation in the Senate.
“Scammers are preying on Americans’ fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 to steal their personal data, fleece them of their life savings, and charge exorbitant prices for basics like medical supplies and cleaning products. Unchecked, COVID scams could further threaten Americans’ health and finances at a time when they’re already vulnerable,” said Luján, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I’m proud to introduce common-sense legislation to empower federal and state authorities to protect consumers and hold scammers accountable.”
“As New Mexicans are looking for ways to protect themselves and their family from the COVID-19 pandemic, they should not have to wade through predatory scams that are taking advantage of this unprecedented crisis,” Udall said. “Everyday—and now lifesaving—products like masks, gloves and sanitizing supplies should be affordable and widely available to every American, but scam artists are disrupting routine ways of doing business to profit from this crisis. This bill will empower federal and state authorities to do more to deter scammers and hold them accountable, and I will not stop fighting to protect New Mexico consumers from COVID-19 scams.”
“Using a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, infected nearly 4 million more, and left over 50 million workers unemployed as an opportunity to prey on people is simply unforgivable. Scammers attempting to steal from students, seniors and anyone in between need to be stopped and held accountable for their crimes,” Kennedy said. “Under the Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020, we can do just that.”
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is unfortunate that many Iowans have become victims of fraud and scams, including price gouging, phishing and charity scams and investment fraud. If actions to stop these scams are not taken, many more people could have their health or financial wellbeing threatened,” said Loebsack. “I am pleased to work with Rep. Lujan and my other colleagues to introduce this important legislation to help keep consumers safe and punish those who are trying to use this situation to take advantage of others.”
“Scammers must be held accountable for the harm they do,” McNerney said. “In addition to providing Americans with COVID-related support, Congress must enact measures to help protect Americans from COVID scams that can destroy the lives of people in need—financially crippling them and hijacking their information. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation.”
“This measure is much-needed across the country, but especially so in Hawai’i where our tourism-based economy is largely shuttered and unemployment is among the very highest nationally,” Case said. “Scams have had a serious impact on claims processed at our Hawai‘i state unemployment office, resulting not just in squandered unemployment assistance but in substantial backlogs hindering the office’s ability to get benefits to those who are fully qualified. This legislation will deter those who would willfully steal from others in their time of desperate need.”
“Scammers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on the financial and physical health of Americans that are trying to navigate through these uncertain times,” said Veasey. “I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020—legislation that will help mitigate these problems by giving federal and state governments more agency to bring scammers that have committed crimes to justice and protect consumers.”
“Scams linked to COVID-19 are harming consumers’ financial and physical health on a daily basis. Agencies tasked with protecting consumers from this fraud should not have to operate with one hand tied behind their backs,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “That is why we are proud to support Congressman Lujan’s common-sense bill, which will allow the Federal Trade Commission to use all the tools in its arsenal, including civil penalties, to fight back against the scammers.”
“Crooks are taking advantage of fear and confusion about the COVID-19 pandemic to trick people into giving them their money, their personal information, or both. It’s a no-brainer — Congress should enact the Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020 immediately to strengthen the ability of federal and state consumer protection agencies to combat this fraud,” said Director Susan Grant of Consumer Protection and Privacy for the Consumer Federation of America.
The Stopping COVID Scams Act allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state Attorneys General to impose civil penalties on COVID-19 scammers. The legislation would apply to the following deceptive acts and practices:
Those involving goods and services advertised as related to the pandemic;
Those involving goods and services that experienced an increase in consumer demand one month before the emergency and until the emergency ends;
Those related to the federal or state response to COVID-19, including testing and treatment, unemployment benefits, and economic impact payments.
The Stopping COVID Scams Act is endorsed by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League, and Public Citizen.