As cases of the coronavirus continue to arise across the United States and here in Massachusetts, some people are using the pandemic to make a profit —taking advantage of peoples' uncertainty by offering fake cures and asking for donation to non-existent charities. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with state Attorney General Maura Healey about what to do if you are approached by a scammer, and how her office can be a resource during the pandemic. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: We've heard about everything from fake vaccines to fake charities, even a toothpaste that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been hawking. Attorney General, how bad is this?
Maura Healey: Unfortunately, we've already had reports of people who have received unsolicited emails, texts [and] phone calls from people who are obviously scam artists purporting to sell vaccines or test kits for the coronavirus or cures. So we just want to warn people about that. We've also seen and we'll see, I'm sure, efforts by people who say they're calling from a particular charity that goes to fight coronavirus, make a contribution. Just be really wary; all this stuff is a scam. So first order of business take care of your health, but please be aware that there are these scams out there.
Mathieu: What should people do if they think they've got somebody like this on the line asking them for money or giving them false information?
Healey: Well, hang up right away and don't give out information. Never give out personal or financial information to anyone on the phone. But report this to my office so that we can continue to be vigilant and warn the public. Also, there's a different issue that's come up around consumer issues related to price gouging. We don't want anybody to illegally profit off of this. So let us know if you see or are aware of instances of price gouging: jacked up sales of sanitizers, toilet paper and the like. And also, I'd say you should feel free to call my office, too, if you have questions about refunds. We've got a lot of parents out there, a lot of students out there [with] school trips that have been canceled [and] other travel that's since canceled. Let my office know about that. We want to work to try to help get refunds and the like.
Mathieu: When it comes to travel, that's a really big one and I'm glad that you brought it up. In terms of most airlines, it seems like [they're] offering some flexibility. Are you hearing that for the most part? That airlines serving Logan Airport are, in fact, offering refunds or at least some flexibility with people to change their plans?
Healey: I am. The concern I have though with some of the travel companies, particularly those that are working directly with schools — high schools, college students and the like — what they are doing with trips planned abroad where families have already paid significant deposits in for trips.
Mathieu: Do you worry about college students who are being asked to leave campus, in some cases, early? They don't always have a place to go. We've talked to a number of them who can't get home, for instance. Could [they] be potential targets themselves?
Healey: Absolutely, and I am encouraging and I know that our colleges and universities are under a tremendous amount of strain right now trying to work through this. We want those those students safe and hopefully we can all work collaboratively to make that happen. I'm also concerned about workers, though. I've spoken about this before. There is an earned sick time law here in the state. I hope and encourage employers to be flexible with their employees at this time. We're all called upon to do things we haven't done before, but we don't want people losing paychecks and unable to pay bills as a result of this crisis. And we do want to make sure that people stay home if they're not well or feeling ill. And then there's the broader issue; I think many of us as employers are currently right now in the process of implementing social distancing at our work, encouraging or asking people to work from home. And again, I think this is really important as we look to slow the infection rate and contain this.
Mathieu: Well, I'm really glad you brought up the workplace issue and the sick time issue. Is it safe to be able to tell people that they cannot be forced to work if they're feeling symptoms?
Healey: Well, certainly it's a dumb idea to force people to work right now, given the crisis. There's an earned sick time law that allows workers up to 40 hours of sick time each year. But it doesn't always cover the amount of time you need for quarantine, so this is why I am asking employers to be flexible. I know the hard hit for some of our smaller businesses and companies. And it's tough. It's tough on retail, it's tough on hospitality, it's tough on a lot of people in there. Unfortunately, I know there are a lot of people that just don't have the luxury of being able to do their job from home, and we need to make sure that we find a way to take care of them and their families. Call my office. I have a fair labor hotline. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to call my office.
Mathieu: I have to ask you before you leave as a former not just basketball player, but professional basketball player, what is it like for you to hear the headline: the NBA suspending games indefinitely?
Healey: I think it shows you the magnitude of the situation. Obviously, it's a big deal, but it's absolutely necessary to cancel these major sporting events and large gatherings. I feel terrible for all the college kids who were getting ready for their spring sports seasons [and] the Ivy League tournament was just canceled. This is really devastating and hard for a lot of people. It's also devastating and hard for those who need to go to the hospital for regular treatments for cancer and other diseases and have concern now about what's happening within hospitals. So it's a really challenging, upsetting [and] disruptive time, and I think we all just need to really work hard to keep the larger perspective. It is about trying to take care of ourselves and one another here. But obviously, it speaks to just how big a deal this is and how important everyone's role is. Because, Joe, what I hear is some people say, "well, I'm not going to get sick". The fact of the matter is you may not get sick or you may be simply a carrier without symptoms, and many of us probably will be carriers without symptoms. But you have a responsibility to other people to make sure you are not part of spreading the infection. We're trying to reduce infection rate spread, and that's why everybody has to participate.