South Carolina’s newly installed top prosecutor has formed a “Covid Strike Team” to protect citizens and taxpayers from getting fleeced as the worst of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic (or at least its first wave) washes over the Palmetto State.
Interim U.S. attorney Peter McCoy – who was sworn in last week – said his new team will “pursue the prosecution and investigation of coronavirus fraud schemes, hoarding and price gouging activities.”
The team will be comprised of assets from the U.S. attorney’s office, the S.C. attorney general’s office, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and a host of federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The team is also working with local law enforcement agencies across the Palmetto State “as needed,” according to a release from McCoy’s office.
Several schemes have cropped up over the last few weeks as the first wave of the pandemic approaches peak intensity. Among them? Fake coronavirus tests, hoarding of personal protective medical equipment and scams related to coronavirus stimulus payments.
“It is a sad truth that criminals are always willing to take advantage of every opportunity to prey on the most vulnerable,” McCoy said in a statement. “In these unprecedented times, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its federal, state, and local partners remain vigilant, and we will prosecute those who take advantage of Americans during this pandemic.”
McCoy indicated his office was already receiving – and responding to – allegations of coronavirus-related fraud. He also encouraged anyone who suspects such fraud to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling 866-720-5721 or emailing [email protected].
S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson’s office has already been investigating “hundreds” of price gouging complaints pursuant to its authority under state law.
South Carolina’s price gouging statue (S.C. code of laws § 39-5-145) prohibits “unconscionable” price increases during times of disaster and remains in effect for fifteen days after a state of emergency has been lifted. Violators can be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to thirty days.
South Carolina has been under a state of emergency since March 13.
Wilson’s office encouraged those reporting suspected violations to …
- Note the time, place, address, and name of the business
- Note the price you paid
- Note any prices nearby and get the same information on those businesses
- Take pictures that identify the business, along with the price
- Provide your name and contact information
The office also encouraged those who suspect price gouging to provide as much specific information as possible regarding the products in question.
For example, if a citizen suspects price gouging on a bottle of hand sanitizer, they should make note of the specific brand (and the quantity) of sanitizer so that investigators are able to compare “apples to apples” in pursuing the lead.
Same goes for other consumer products …
We appreciate efforts undertaken by law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders like McCoy and Wilson to prevent additional economic harm from befalling South Carolinians during this time of crisis. We support their crackdown on coronavirus-related fraud 100 percent, and we support their crackdown on price gouging to the extent the activity in question is wildly out-of-line with prevailing market rates.
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