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Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection Provides Advice to Avoid Scams Related to COVID-19 Health Crisis

For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 2, 2020

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is warning consumers to be alert for potential scams and fraud related to the COVID-19 health crisis. Among the scams currently active are those claiming to sell products to cure the virus. At this time, there are no products proven to cure COVID-19.

Despite frequent reports through the media by health professionals on COVID-19, and repeated warnings that there are no cures for the rapidly spreading virus, scammers are trying to convince people that a cure can be bought over the internet.

“There are no approved products to cure COVID-19. However, the online marketplace and social media may advertise worthless ‘miracle’ products,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “Health concerns are paramount during this global pandemic, so consumers need to be aware of ploys in which scammers exploit our fears and desire for immediate information. Don’t fall for email messages offering to provide a map of your neighbors who have tested positive. These crooks are creative and one wrong click on a computer can result in a computer virus.” 

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan recently signed a State of Emergency bill that bans price gouging for certain products during the emergency period. However, some unscrupulous merchants may be charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and disinfectant wipes. 

In addition to the State bill, Montgomery County’s Consumer Protection Act has a provision regarding “unconscionable” contract terms related to the sale of goods. Amazon and eBay are taking steps to prohibit price gouging activity regarding certain products.

“It is best to avoid these merchants in Montgomery County and report them to the Office of Consumer Protection,” said Friedman.

The Office of Consumer Protection also is urging consumers to carefully look into cancellation policies regarding planned travel. Some airlines, hotels, and cruise lines are allowing consumers to cancel tickets without penalties. Cancellation and refund policies vary greatly with tour groups, peer-to-peer shared housing, and public events. There are no consumer protection laws that regulate all of these type of transactions. It is best to contact each business directly to resolve situations for travel that has been already been booked.

Protections also exist under Maryland law for gym memberships. If the gym is closed for more than one month, the buyer is entitled to extend the membership contract for a period equal to the period that the facility is closed or offer a prorated refund of the amount paid under the contract. In the case of closures due to COVID-19, clubs are closed through no fault of the gym operator. Consumers should know that the choice of reimbursement remedy will be made by the club. 

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection can be contacted at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocp/

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) also is warning about scams in which residents are told they will need a special filter on their taps to prevent the COVID-19 virus from reaching them via the water system. The WSSC wants water users to know that its water is tested before it leaves the plant. The WSSC will not call residents to test home water (at a fee) or to sell a resident a filter. More information is available at  http://wsscwater.com/coronavirus.

For the latest updates, visit the County’s COVID-19 website and follow Montgomery County on Facebook @MontgomeryCountyInfo and Twitter @MontgomeryCoMD.

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Release ID: 20-166
Media Contact: Eric Friedman 240-777-3719