Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Scammers and con artists are preying on fears Americans have related to coronavirus, using this crisis to steal money and sensitive information. It’s important to remain vigilant and learn to recognize and identify schemes scammers use because, as the old adage holds, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers about coronavirus scams that include hoax text messages and robocalls offering free at-home testing kits and promoting fake cures. While the agency has taken steps to stop several peddlers of scam coronavirus treatments, these offenders will continue to adapt their practices and target unsuspecting consumers.

With the increase in ways to stay in contact, it shouldn’t be a surprise that criminals are using all avenues available to profit off of coronavirus concerns. Here are some of the recent schemes scammers are using to steal money and sensitive information.

 

Recovery Checks 

In the coming weeks, Arkansans will be receiving recovery checks approved by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. There is no need to sign-up. The IRS will issue the one-time tax rebate check of $1,200 to every American whose 2018 tax return, or 2019 if filed, showed income at or below $75,000. Individuals without bank information provided will receive their recovery checks in the mail. 

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a warning about the likely potential of recovery check scams. Some Americans have already reported phony websites and emails asking for their personal information to ensure they get their recovery funds. 

IRS representatives will not:

  • Require you to pay a fee; or
  • Ask you to confirm personal or financial information (including bank, PayPal or financial institution accounts.)

Click here for more information on the coronavirus recovery checks guidance issued by the IRS.

 

Social Security

Seniors citizens too often fall victim to scammers. The Inspector General of Social Security is warning about fraudulent letters some beneficiaries have received that threaten suspension of Social Security benefits due to coronavirus and related office closures. It’s important to remember:

Social Security will not: 

  • Threaten you with benefit suspension, arrest, or other legal action unless you pay a fine or fee;
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment;
  • Require payment by retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card;
  • Demand secrecy from you in handling a Social Security-related problem; or
  • Send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via email.

Not only are scammers using letters to target seniors, but they’re using illegal robocalls. Government agencies won’t call to confirm your sensitive information. Listen to this call scammers are circulating so you can be prepared if you answer a similar call. Hang up if you find yourself on the receiving end of a call like this. Block the caller and report it to the FTC.

 

SNAP Benefits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received reports of possible fraud attempts targeting recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). USDA officials urge participants to be suspicious of any individual or organization that asks for your personal information including social security number, bank information and SNAP EBT or PIN number. In one potential scam, SNAP recipients were asked to enter their personal and bank account information on a website to qualify for coronavirus assistance. 

 

Federal Trade Commission

The FTC supports consumers who believe they have been targeted by scammers. The agency reports an increase in coronavirus-related complaints nationwide and advises consumers to safeguard against these scams:

  • Undeliverable goods: A website advertises in-demand products like cleaning supplies and medical equipment. Unfortunately, the order never arrives.
  • Fake charities: Individuals want to help in trying times, but thieves create hoax charities that exploit on this generosity. The best thing to do is research charities online.
  • Fake emails, texts and phishing: Beware of fraudulent emails and texts that ask for your personal information. Sometimes links in these scam emails can install ransomware and lock you out of your computer.
  • Robocalls: Listen to some of the latest robocall pitches the FTC is warning that scammers are using to steal money and personal information:

The FTC has a lot of information that is helpful to avoid becoming of victim of scammers.

The Arkansas Better Business Bureau has indicated an increase in possible scams and offers guidance to consumers.   

If you suspect your or someone you know may have been the victim of a scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC.
Here’s a round-up of some of Sen. Boozman's public comments about the new coronavirus (COVID-19), including how he and his colleagues in the Senate are responding to this crisis.

***PLEASE NOTE: In keeping with social distancing recommendations, my staff is unable to attend events, schedule in-person meetings or accept walk-ins at any of my offices at this time. However, they do stand ready to assist in any way possible. Please contact my staff by phone to request immediate help on any issue.***

It can be hard to keep up with the rapidly shifting news regarding the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as cases continue to grow in Arkansas, the United States and around the globe. One thing that’s clear is that the coronavirus is having a severe impact on American families, small businesses and our national economy as a whole. We all have a role to play to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Together, we can prevent the spread, reduce the danger for those in high-risk categories and help return a sense of normalcy in our lives.

What Congress is Doing
Congress is approaching this crisis from multiple angles. On the public health front, we have been working to ensure that the federal response is effectively stopping the spread and providing care for those in need, while also working to blunt the economic impact this will have on every American.

Public Health Crisis: We passed a comprehensive $7.7 billion package to dramatically increase efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, treat Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 and support research to find a vaccine. President Trump signed this bill into law on March 6, 2020.

This bipartisan, bicameral emergency supplemental appropriations package provides a surge in funding at every level – local, state, federal and international – to meet the growing challenge we face.

It promotes a government-wide approach—channeling the collective energy, knowledge and talents of federal, state and local public health officials and healthcare professionals to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and treat those who have been affected.

Nearly 85 percent of this funding will be spent here in the U.S., with a large portion going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in turn will be directed to states and localities in the form of public health preparedness grants. The CDC has awarded $560 million in initial funding to states, localities and territories from this pot of money. Arkansas received $6.2 million from this funding to support the state’s COVID-19 response.

The law also appropriated money for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to train health care workers on the front lines and to develop and approve diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines related to the virus. There is also money for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, to supplement the Strategic National Stockpile, provide resources for community health centers and help hospitals and health systems adapt and respond. $1.25 billion is provided to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to continue their work with our international partners to fight the spread of the virus abroad.

Economic Impact: As the lives of Americans are upended by the coronavirus, we must provide relief directly to them, as well as the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. 

Many small businesses in America’s large cities and small towns alike are being forced to close during this outbreak both to protect public health and because of a shrinking customer base, as consumers are urged to stay home to reduce the spread of the disease. The unexpected closure for small business owners, through no fault of their own, may prevent many of them from reopening by the time this is behind us. Those employed at these operations will be among the hardest hit financially by this crisis.

Congress followed suit and approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but we view this as the first step in our efforts to provide economic relief. Think of it as phase two.

Providing immediate funding to address the public health threat was phase one of our response. Phase two—the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—marked the beginning of our efforts to address the coronavirus’s economic impact by funding paid emergency leave for workers, making testing widely available at no additional cost to patients and enhancing food security initiatives. 

We have now moved on to phase three of our response, passing the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help individual Americans negatively affected by this crisis get by and stave off a massive economic disaster.  

The CARES Act increases our investment in hospitals and healthcare providers—the men and women on the front lines of this fight—while working to stabilize the economy and provide relief to Americans struggling in the wake of economic challenges created by this pandemic. 

Checks will be sent to millions of American households to offset the financial impact of the crisis and allow for a much-needed injection of liquidity into our economy. Unemployment insurance will be expanded while stabilizing industries to prevent mass layoffs. Other steps, such as delaying federal student loans payments for six months, will be taken to help affected individuals. 

Dramatic relief will be provided to the lifeblood of our economy—our small businesses—which have taken a massive financial hit. Loans will be delivered to small businesses to help continue operations, and if those funds are used for payroll and other vital necessities to maintain services, they will be forgiven.  

The CARES Act is not a stimulus plan, it’s an existence plan. 

It is designed to offer immediate relief, making it such that families and individuals whose lives have been turned upside down as a result of this crisis have money they need to survive.  

We also have to create a path to economic recovery while helping individuals and families through this crisis. Americans can’t go to work. Businesses are unable to operate. Individuals are not getting paychecks. Not only do we have to help our fellow Americans through these challenging times, but we also have to make sure that they have jobs when we begin to return some normalcy to our lives.

That is the aim of the CARES Act. The magnitude of this crisis requires us to think big and act big. The CARES Act puts big ideas into action. We will get through this. We have to look after each other every step of the way until then.

**Want to learn more about what the work we are doing in the Senate to help Americans overcome this crisis? My staff created a helpful tracker of media stories and press material related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will be continually updated.**  

What the Administration is Doing
The CDC began tracking the new coronavirus from its onset in Wuhan, China, working with our partners in the international community to identify and isolate the new form of coronavirus that caused the outbreak. The president took decisive action by proactively restricting travel from nations with widespread, ongoing transmission of COVID-19. I do believe this helped mitigate a large-scale initial outbreak within our borders. 

When the coronavirus reached American soil, efforts had been underway to detect possible cases and provide medical care to those in need, as well as ensure that transmissions of the disease do not reach epidemic proportions. There have certainly been some initial shortcomings in the process, the availability of testing kits being at the top of the list, but strides have been made to improve performance in those areas. 

To that end, the CDC has distributed testing kits to state and local public health laboratories to diagnose COVID-19 patients in the United States. The FDA granted an emergency use authorization to allow more labs to test samples and identify potential cases more quickly. The FDA has granted authority for Roche, Thermo Fischer and public and private labs in New York to use tests they have developed to detect coronavirus. Commercial labs such as Quest and LabCorp also have started testing.

The president appointed a task force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, to coordinate intergovernmental response and mitigation efforts. The task force is harnessing the power of both the public and private sector to improve the ability to test and treat those in need, accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure the supply chain continues to run smoothly. It has also devised guidelines Americans should follow to slow the spread of coronavirus (more on that below) and has dramatically expanded telehealth services for the 62 million Medicare beneficiaries who are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus.

Members of the president’s task force include some of the world’s leading authorities on public health. I encourage every American to heed the guidance on what we as individuals can do to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Congress should continue to follow the task force’s guidance on legislative recommendations to support its efforts to help us overcome this crisis.

What You Should Do
We all have a responsibility to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The American people are on the front line of this fight and an informed public is our best hope to win it.

President Trump’s task force announced new guidelines for every American to follow as we combat the virus. These guidelines encourage Americans to work or study from home; refrain from non-emergency travel; and avoid social gatherings in groups of more than ten people, as well as avoiding eating or drinking in bars, restaurants and food courts. These steps—commonly referred to as “social distancing”—are imperative to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. President Trump has announced the task force will be extending the guidelines to April 30th to slow the spread

Most individuals who contract COVID-19 come down with mild symptoms and have recovered quickly. However, older Americans and those with compromised immune systems may not be so lucky. It is important to remember that while you may feel healthy and not fall into a high-risk category, slowing the curve is more about protecting your family, coworkers and neighbors who do not have that luxury. If we all adhere to these commonsense steps, we can dramatically slow the curve and blunt the spread of the disease.

While it is important to limit trips to the grocery store for social distancing purposes, please try to refrain from buying more than you need. The supply chain is strong. You will be able to get the groceries you need without depleting the options for others. 

Along with the president’s guidelines, the CDC has issued commonsense recommendations for everyday preventive actions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • NOTE: CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
      • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

Lastly, join me in thanking the doctors, nurses and medical professionals on the front lines of the fight. They are being stretched in an unprecedented way. We are indebted to them for their efforts.

Additional Resources

When Arkansans visit Washington, D.C., I strive to make their trips enjoyable and memorable. However, due to growing health and safety concerns relative to the evolving COVID-19 coronavirus, it is important to note that public visits and tours of many of the popular sites in Washington have been suspended.

Please consult the list below for the current visitation status of sites. If you have additional questions, please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-4843.

U.S. Capitol Building
Status: Public tours temporarily suspended until at least through March 31, 2020.
Check for updates: https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/book-tour-capitol

White House
Status: Public tours temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: Call the 24-hour Visitors Office information line at 202-456-7041

U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed to the public until further notice.
Check for updates: https://www.supremecourt.gov/

Pentagon
Status: 
Public tours suspended until further notice.
Check for updates: https://pentagontours.osd.mil/Tours/

Arlington Cemetery
Status: Public access temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Visit

Smithsonian Institution Museums
Status: Public access temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: https://www.si.edu/

The National Zoo
Status: Public access temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/visit

Library of Congress
Status: Public access temporarily suspended until at least through March 31, 2020
Check for updates: https://www.loc.gov/about/pandemic-information/for-public/

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Status: Public access temporarily suspended at least through March 29, 2020.  
Check for updates: https://www.ushmm.org/

National Archives
Status: Public access temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: https://www.archives.gov/coronavirus

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Status: Public tours temporarily suspended.
Check for updates: https://www.moneyfactory.gov

The Kennedy Center
Status: All public performances and events scheduled at the Kennedy Center at least through March 31, 2020 will be canceled and the Kennedy Center campus and its facilities will be closed to visitors until further notice.
Check for updates: https://www.kennedy-center.org/press-releases/covid-19/

Ford’s Theatre
Status: Public access and performances temporarily suspended at least through April 5, 2020.
Check for updates: https://www.fords.org/

FBI Headquarters
Status: Closed to all visitors until further notice.
Check for updates: https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/fbi-headquarters/the-fbi-experience

Treasury Building
Status: Per notification to Congress, public tours have been temporarily suspended at least through April 24, 2020. 

State Department
Status: Per notification to Congress, public tours temporarily suspended at least through April 5, 2020.

Americans are understandably on edge as more cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) appear in the U.S. and the death toll continues to rise around the globe. My colleagues and I understand this anxiety, and have come together to step up efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, treat those infected and support research to find a vaccine. However, it is important to maintain perspective as we address COVID-19, as misinformation will only create more panic over what is already an emergency situation.

It remains unknown how life threating COVID-19 is on a case-to-case basis. Symptoms tend to mimic those of other well-known respiratory illnesses like the flu. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most individuals with mild symptoms have recovered quickly, which has also made identifying cases of COVID-19 a challenge. This, in turn, has exacerbated the spread of the disease and increased risk worldwide.

The rapidly escalating death toll in other countries has led to fears of fatalities on a similar scale in America. I believe our robust public health sector puts us in a good position to stop that from happening.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, has worked closely with our colleagues and the administration to ensure the federal government has ample resources to address a public health crisis of this magnitude. In recent years, we have increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other key government agencies charged with overseeing public health.

Taking a government-wide approach is the key to preventing an outbreak in the U.S. that is on par with what we have seen in other nations. This means channeling the collective energy, knowledge and talents of federal, state and local public health officials and healthcare professionals to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC began tracking the new coronavirus from its onset in Wuhan, China, working with our partners in the international community to identify and isolate the new form of coronavirus that caused the outbreak. Now that cases of COVID-19 have been identified within our borders, we must take the proper steps to detect possible cases and provide medical care to individuals with this diagnose, as well as ensure that transmissions of the disease do not reach epidemic proportions here.

The Trump administration has taken proactive measures to counter the spread by restricting travel from nations with widespread, ongoing transmission of COVID-19. The president has appointed a task force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, to coordinate intergovernmental response and mitigation efforts. The task force is also working with pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. While I appreciate the president’s leadership, more must be done.

The emergency funding legislation passed by Congress will provide a surge in funding at every level—local, state and federal—to confront this challenge head on. It allocates $7.767 billion—more than triple the administration’s original request—to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Nearly 85 percent of this funding will be spent on domestic programs, ensuring that the focus remains on protecting Americans here at home, while still providing ample funding to fight the spread of COVID-19 abroad. Arkansas’s public health agencies are set to receive at least $6.2 million in funding as a result of this bill.

Specifically, the COVID-19 emergency funding package appropriates:

  • $2.2 billion is for the CDC, including no less than $950 million to help state and local governments prevent and combat the spread of the coronavirus. 
  • $836 million will go to the NIH to train health care workers on the front lines and to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines related to the virus.
  • $61 million will support the Food and Drug Administration’s role in approving such products.
  • $3.1 billion is for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. This money will used to supplement the Strategic National Stockpile; develop and purchase diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines; provide resources for community health centers; and help hospitals and health systems adapt and respond.
  • Another $300 million is made available for the purchase of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to ensure that all Americans will have access to the medications they need to combat COVID-19.
  • $1.25 billion is provided to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development to continue working with our international partners to stop the global spread of COVID-19. 

This is a robust response, which is the right approach to take when facing a crisis of this scale. We can’t afford to fall short in this effort.

Our top priority must be keeping Americans safe. A potential massive outbreak of COVID-19 is truly a national emergency. We are in a position to combat it, but federal, state and local agencies must be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Congress must be willing to provide the resources it takes to keep our country safe. I am committed to working with my colleagues to make sure that happens. 

Resources for Arkansans 

An informed public is one the best weapons in this fight. Along with avoiding traveling to areas where exposure risks are high, the CDC has issued commonsense recommendations for everyday preventive actions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • NOTE: CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

Below you will find additional resources to help answer questions you may have about COVID-19:

Additionally, CDC offers free informational material including video, fact sheets and posters. Below are links to current communication tools and resources available for use and distribution.

Hong Kong, a bustling international business hub and one of the world’s most significant commercial ports, is often wrongly assumed to be under the full control of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Less than 25 years ago, Hong Kong was still a British colony. It was handed back to China under a policy known as “one country, two systems”—which suggests that while there is only one China, Hong Kong would retain its own economic and administrative systems. The arrangement allows for Hong Kong to function as a separate entity while the rest of mainland China is governed by the communist system administered by Beijing.

As a result, the citizens of Hong Kong enjoy many liberties denied to those of mainland China. For instance, citizens of Hong Kong have the right to assemble, the right to unfettered access to the internet and freedom of speech.

Those rights appear to be slipping away.
Mr./Madam President,

Newspapers have played a vital role in our country’s history of public discourse, increasing our knowledge and awareness about what takes place around us.

The stories they print keep us informed, while building a sense of community and regional identity.

Newspapers drive political debates and set the agenda, helping us make sense of the issues impacting our world.

As one of the oldest continuously published newspapers west of the Mississippi, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has been a resource of information that keeps readers connected to community, the state and our nation for 200 years.

As the Senate returns to session today, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the highlights from the in-state work period. It was great to be able to spend a long, uninterrupted period on the road in the Natural State, visiting with Arkansans and learning what we need to be focusing on in Washington to improve their lives back home. 

  • KASU’s Morning Edition: While in Jonesboro, I visited KASU’s studio to chat with Johnathan Reaves during Morning Edition. We discussed veterans’ issues, agriculture, trade and opioids. The entire interview is archived here