When Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the Examiner last week, he had a specific message he wanted to relay to the citizens of Hardy County.
“The West Virginia Attorney General’s office has been extremely busy fielding calls that have to do with scams relating to COVID 19, the stimulus money and retail price gouging,” he said.
Since mid-March, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has fielded 850 calls specifically related to COVID 19 issues.
Morrisey said there are three basic scams folks should be aware of regarding COVID 19. “The first has to do with the stimulus money,” he said.
In March, Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package for individuals and businesses suffering economic hardship related to the coronavirus. Part of the stimulus package was a one-time payment of $1,200 for individuals making less than $75,000 or couples making less than $150,000. Families with children received an additional $500 for each child. Payments were made directly to the individuals, either as a direct deposit or in the form of a check.
According to Morrisey, the stimulus money was a prime target for scammers.
“They would call individuals and promise
faster payments if they used their ‘service’,” he said. “It was really a bid to get personal information, bank account information.”
Another part of the stimulus package was to help small businesses in the form of a Paycheck Protection Program or PPP. Businesses could apply for forgivable loans to cover operating costs if they Kept their business open and did not lay-off employees.
The scammers would contact businesses in regard to the PPP. “They would call businesses and offer to help them get through the bureaucracy,” Morrisey said.
“And believe it or not, there were scammers marketing personal protection equipment – PPEs. They would request payment in advance for things like masks and gloves, which they would promise to provide.”
Other popular concerns have involved landlord-tenant issues, vacation or event cancellations and the continued payment for services not received, such as daycare and gymnasium memberships.
On a positive note, Morrisey said, the majority of reported instances of price gouging by retailers were simply the retailer passing on price increases from their supplier. “There were very few actual price gouging cases,” he said.
Morrisey also provided some insight into other issues his office has been following.
According to Morrisey, the number one challenge in the state is the opioid crisis, so the Examiner asked why the Attorney General’s office hasn’t been more aggressive in prosecuting the doctors who actually prescribe the drugs.
“Every part of the chain bears some responsibility,” Morrisey said. “The doctors are a consumer protection issues and we look to the state Board of Medicine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and/or local prosecuting attorneys to make those calls. What we have done is gone after the root causes.”
Morrisey said his office sued the Drug Enforcement Agency, who regulates the number of pills which can be produced.
“Because of us, the DEA was forced to rewrite the rules,” he said. “We changed national drug production.”
Morrisey said, while his office has worked to reduce the illicit market, it is important to maintain a supply of narcotics for the people who have a legitimate need.
“This is where best practices come in,” he said. “Use the best available alternative before prescribing narcotics. Doctors have been required to report usage more frequently. People who need these drugs should have access, but we have reduced production dramatically because the volume was not needed.”
Morrisey was asked about the implications of his office’s fight against the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Morrisey is one of 20 Republican Attorneys General who have filed suit to strike down the entire law based on the mandate that everyone have health insurance. The suit alleges the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
“We are going after the individual mandate,” Morrisey said. “No one with a pre-existing condition will be denied coverage. We want an open Marketplace. We want to reel-in the premium prices. Those prices have skyrocketed. We want to protect people with pre-existing conditions.”
Morrisey said those who believe people with pre-existing conditions are being threatened by the lawsuit are politicizing the issue.
“No one wants it (pre-existing coverage) to be taken away,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Morrisey also responded to questions regarding the AG’s office opposition to environmental regulations.
“I believe we can have clean air and clean water,” he said. “But I also think it is important to step in where there is federal government overreach. We believe that was true in the Waters of the Chesapeake and the Clean Power Plan. They really hurt the residents of Hardy County.”
The Waters of the Chesapeake Morrisey cited was the 2015 Clean Water Rule adopted by the Obama administration. It basically said that streams, regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, are connected to and have important effects on larger bodies of water and therefore are subject to similar regulations.
The Clean Power Plan, also implemented in 2015, sought to reduce the carbon pollution from America’s power plants. An important part of the plan was to phase-out the use of coal-fired power plants.
Morrisey reiterated his office’s work with consumer protection and urged anyone who believes they are a victim of a scam or fraud to contact his office and file a complaint.
To reach the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division call 1-800-368-8808. The call is toll-free.