Pandemic Scam Preparedness
A pandemic is an infectious disease outbreak that affects a large geographic area. The risk of a pandemic has increased in recent years because of the wide usage of passenger air travel. Much has been written on what items you need to stock up on during a pandemic. This addresses what you need to be aware of to avoid falling victim to the unprecedented number of scams and predators seeking to exploit the pandemic crisis.
Online scams targeting people and businesses
Criminals prey on targets in unfamiliar territory. Since the start of the pandemic, many individuals who were accustomed to shopping at their favorite stores, are now shopping online. This had led to an increase in the number of cybercriminals selling phony medication and equipment to individuals and healthcare institutions. Phony sites are popping up claiming to sell protective gear and hand sanitizer. Be aware that there has been a spike in phony websites related to the pandemic seeking to scam people out of their money or personal information. With brick and mortar stores closed during the pandemic, online thieves are targeting digital checkouts on websites. Be aware of purchases and verify all websites first, and carefully review purchases on your monthly credit card statement. Contact your credit card company immediately if you suspect any unauthorized purchases, or if the amount of purchase is not the same as advertised on the website.
Fraudulent unemployment websites are also obtaining personal information which can also be sold to third parties for marketing. Individuals should avoid any non-government websites offering to assist with filing of unemployment claims.
Price gouging is when the price of a product is at least 20 percent higher than normal. It is also illegal during a declared disaster emergency. Consumers have flooded their state officials with complaints of online price gouging, with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office alone receiving thousands of consumer price gouging complaints since the start of the pandemic. One vendor outside of Philadelphia was reportedly selling a $2.00 bottle of hand sanitizer for $19.00. Be aware of the fear factor. Most necessities will be in supply, and if not, will be available soon. Avoid becoming a victim of price gouging by only buying items that you need from reputable retailers.
One of the main challenges is that a pandemic is likely to last longer than most emergencies such as a natural disaster. Pandemics can also return in “waves” weeks or months after they subside. This means that the consumer will need to remain vigilant for longer periods.
Here are some practical tips based upon the research about how to reduce crime and avoid becoming a victim.
Protecting Schools and Children
Preventing School Shootings
Here’s what we know:
- School shootings are extremely rare occurrences.
- School violence is not on the increase. Schools are actually safer places for children than other locations, such as the commute to and from school or any place you can think of that has reduced levels of supervision.
- Kids don’t just snap. School violence is a process, not an event;
- There’s little to no evidence to support the idea that school-based police officers deter school shootings. Columbine had a school resource officer on campus, as did the high school in Parkland, Florida. Most shootings were over before law enforcement arrived at the scene.
- Many school shooters announce their plans to classmates or friends prior to the attack. This is known as “leakage.”
- Attackers do not fit a profile. Some attackers were bullied in school, some were not. Some were loners, while some had friends and were not isolated. The media often create images of the school shooter—which can be very broad and describe many innocent students—or overstate a problem, such as bullying.
- Creating a fortress-like environment at a school can lead to increased fear among students, particularly during their commute.
- Faculty and staff should be trained on what to do in the event of a school attack. Having students participate in active shooter drills may do little more than contribute to fear and are inappropriate in many cases, particularly in a special education setting. Keep in mind that school shootings are extremely rare events.
Here’s what works:
- Providing youths with life skills training. Rather than implementing the useless and expensive bullying prevention programs that are currently on the market, more focus should be given to how a child can make and keep friends.
- Smaller schools may be safer! Large schools with high enrollment may exacerbate problems that some students are experiencing, particularly if the student has transferred in from a smaller school.
- Creating a clear mechanism for students to report troubling behavior. Students often know when there is a problem. Creating and encouraging the sharing of information is one of the most important ways that schools can prevent an attack.
- Practical and reasonable security measures should be implemented, such as securing access and utilizing cameras in public areas where supervision is minimal.
- Firearms in the youth’s home should always be properly stored and secured. Parents should ensure that firearms are also properly stored and secured in the homes of friends and relatives that the youth visits.
Protecting Houses of Worship
Within the United States there are approximately 345,000 religious groups that have about 150 million members that comprise more than 230 different denominations. Rural communities generally have small congregations, whereas urban areas have congregations that can exceed 10,000 members. Some religious facilities also provide Kindergarten through 12th grade schooling for youth.
In 2014 alone, there were 176 deadly incidents at houses of worship in the United States. The 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina took the lives of nine people.
The tips that follow are not exhaustive. At a bare minimum, entry points to the house of worship should be limited during meeting or worship times.
Here’s what we know:
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 19% of all hate crimes recorded in 2009 were directed at the individuals’ religious belief.
- Prior events suggest that attacks targeting houses of worship are a real threat and can inflict significant harm on the perception of safety within the surrounding community.
- Attackers can use firearms, explosives, arson, vehicles, or homemade bombs. Other threats can include graffiti, theft, and the targeting of specific members and religious leaders.
- The large number of houses of worship, the predictable times of worship, number of people gathered in a single location within the building, unrestricted access, and the absence of security, make houses of worship a “soft target” vulnerable to attack.
- Houses of worship have limited budgets available to addressing security issues.
Here’s what you can do:
- For larger houses of worship, consider forming a Safety Team comprised of volunteers from the congregation or church staff, with one senior member designated as the leader. The volunteer Safety Team will have assigned duties during worship services (and other events) and will be responsible for a particular zone or area of the building.
- Members of the Safety Team should be equipped with two-way radios. Radio protocol should be established and radio checks performed prior to the service or event.
- Consider security in “layers,” starting with a security survey that examines Exterior, and works toward the Interior. The security survey will allow the house of worship to address any specific security concerns within a budget. (Contact Forensic Security & Protection, LLC for an initial free consultation regarding this)
- For the exterior, use planter barriers and decorative fencing. A qualified security consultant can assist with this.
- Photograph and then remove any graffiti as soon as it appears. Provide the photographs to the local police department and file a report.
- Install motion-sensor lights in dark or secluded areas. Cameras are also recommended, but first seek the advices of a qualified security consultant.
- Trim bushes, shrubs, or trees around doors and windows.
- If a Safety Team is established, ensure that they are assigned to entrances and parking areas during worship times.
- Immediately report suspicious people, activity, packages, or vehicles in the parking lot.
- Points of entry should be limited to one. Other entrances should be secured.
- Secure the entrance at the beginning of the worship service.
- Consider installing a monitored security system.
- Limit access to childcare, offices, and other sensitive areas.
- Inspect doors and locks to ensure that they are in working order.
- Have solid core doors with steel frames installed at entrances to the building.