Public safety agencies receive funding to protect Kentuckians from COVID-19-related fraud

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 21, 2020) –  More than $780,000 in federal funding has been awarded to Kentucky public safety agencies and offices to help protect Kentuckians, including seniors, against scams and fraud and to respond to price gouging during the fight against COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear announced today.

“Kentuckians have been resilient during this pandemic, but unfortunately there are criminals who have targeted our people, particularly our seniors and those facing financial difficulty during this already difficult time,” Beshear said. “This funding provides resources to our law enforcement and public safety agencies to take forceful action to stop predators and protect Kentuckians.”

Beshear and the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet announced the U.S. Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program (CESF) awarded the grant funding to the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy (DPA).

Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Enforcement Unit

Beginning with the first COVID-19 case in Kentucky in early March, Beshear signed an executive order prohibiting price gouging, which he has continued to renew during the pandemic.

To bolster anti-price gouging efforts, the governor said the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Enforcement Unit has been awarded $540,323 to hire one staff attorney, one paralegal and one investigator to address rampant COVID-related consumer fraud, scams and price-gouging complaints.

Funds also will be used to develop a mobile application for consumers to report price gouging, scams or other fraudulent activity related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the application, the Office of the Attorney General wrote that after the Governor issued an Executive Order on March 7, 2020, to protect Kentuckians from price gouging, the office began receiving many price-gouging complaints, which grew exponentially over the course of the coronavirus emergency and by August, the office had received more than 4,624. The Governor said these funds should help the office protect more Kentuckians from price gouging and seek justice for those already harmed.

Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection

On Monday, the governor published a Charitable Giving Guide that advises Kentuckians how to verify legitimate charities and avoid charity scams, which can increase during the Christmas season and as the tax year draws to an end. Kentuckians already are facing the greatest challenge of our generation with COVID-19, the governor said, and the guide helps Kentuckians ensure their hard-earned dollars are used to help their neighbors and are not stolen by scammers.

The Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection has been awarded $144,136 to hire a dedicated investigator to address a dramatic expansion in financial fraud and exploitation targeting Kentucky’s senior population in the wake of COVID-19. In addition, the office will launch a targeted education and awareness campaign, the “Senior Justice Initiative,” to combat COVID-19 fraud targeting seniors.

As part of the application, the Office of the Attorney General indicated that they have seen an alarming increase in the number of senior victims and amount of financial fraud in Kentucky during COVID-19. The office said in July, they saw a 2,354% increase in financial fraud reported to the Office of Senior Protection and those who fell victim to financial exploitation and fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic have overwhelmingly been Kentuckians who are ages 60 or older. Increases in online shopping and online banking scams during COVID-19, combined with the effects of social isolation and loneliness created by the pandemic have added to the ability of scammers to successfully lure victims into these scams.

Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy

The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) has been awarded $102,270 to launch a pilot project in Hardin County to address adverse effects of COVID-19 on indigent clients.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Mary Noble said COVID-19 has affected indigent clients’ access to the court system and to legal counsel with some in-person services temporarily halted to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“This grant funding is instrumental as we work to adjust to a new normal within the court system and how legal services are being provided electronically. DPA’s pilot program could reinvent the criminal legal system for the long-term and propel our state forward as we work to win against this pandemic,” said Noble.

DPA said the funds will be used to implement a pilot project to address systemic pandemic-created constitutional barriers that have arisen due to the global coronavirus outbreak. Chief Regional Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton and Hardin County Jailer Josh Lindblom both were consulted prior to the submission of the grant funds request. Both agree with the need for enhanced technology in all courtrooms in the county to protect the health and constitutional rights of justice-involved persons and are in support of the pilot project.

This project will identify constitutional issues related to access to courts and counsel during the pandemic; enhance access to courts through electronic means, both for in-custody and out-of-custody clients; and create guidelines and recommendations for short-term and long-term solutions that must be implemented to better prepare the criminal legal system moving forward.

For additional information and to apply for CESF grant funding visit the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s website.