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Fri, Aug. 07

County Attorney issues alert on COVID-19 Scams

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Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. Courtesy photo

The primary mission of the Yavapai County Attorney is public safety. Last weeks, our judges, sheriff, prosecutors and public defender joined together to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19 while safeguarding the integrity of our criminal justice system.

The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office remains fully open for business. With an aggressive plan utilizing the power of the internet, our prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates are able to maximize social distancing through videoconferencing, electronic court filing, and work from home strategies while protecting the public, the rights of victims, the rights of criminal defendants, and the health of our employees.

Hats off to Yavapai County Superior Court Presiding Judge David Mackey; he speedily implemented measures to maximize social distancing in our courthouses. Jury trials have been postponed and parties to cases are being encouraged to appear via telephone. For defendants who are in-custody, hearings are being strategically spaced throughout the week to limit the number of individuals in the courtroom at any time to ten or fewer people.

If you are a victim of a crime, or family or friend, you can do your part, too. We are asking that you avoid coming to the courthouse for hearings. My office will continue to provide notice to victims of all court hearings and outcomes. Staying away from the proceedings will help limit the number of people in the courtroom for each hearing.

I spent eight years of my career as a consumer protection attorney in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Unfortunately, I can tell you first-hand that while you are juggling the stress of social distancing, school closures and possibly missed paychecks, scam artists are busily devising schemes to separate you from your hard-earned money. We are already seeing emails, texts and phone calls from scammers posing as government officials to trick you into disclosing your personal information. Technology is so sophisticated that these scammers are hard to spot. Oftentimes, their communication includes imagery, phone numbers or email addresses that look official.

A few simple rules will help you spot the scammers:

• View every unsolicited attempt to reach you or sell you something with extreme skepticism.

• If it contains a generic greeting, such as Hello Sir/Madame, it most likely is fake.

• Do not respond to requests for confirmation of personal or billing information.

• If you receive a suspicious email from anyone—a business, a friend, your employer—contact them separately via phone to verify the message before acting on it.

• The more urgent the message or the pressure for you to give up information to avert a disaster, the more likely it a scam.

I have one simple rule: I never give out personal information unless I initiated the contact. No exceptions. If I did not make the phone call or write the first email, I do not give out my information.

One last piece of advice. The United States 2020 Census is now underway. On March 18, the Census Bureau announced the suspension of all field operations for two weeks until April 1, 2020, with plans to evaluate further at that time. This means no census takers will appear at your door. Anyone making that claim is a potential scammer.

How can you best protect yourself from potential Census scammers? By now, you should have received your US Census 2020 invitation in the mail. You can quickly fill out the census using your computer, laptop, smartphone or iPad. You can also call them on the phone to complete the census. It has never been easier to respond to the US Census. You control how to respond.

This pandemic is going to challenge us in ways we could never have imagined. I am confident that, together, we will weather this storm, each doing our part to protect ourselves, our neighbors and our communities.

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney.

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