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Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is Arkansas' toilet paper price monitor.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his phalanx of public health advisers have rightly gotten the attention of most Arkansans as they work out the state's response as the coronavirus spreads.

But with every crisis, it seems, come opportunists ready to bilk naivé or frightened people out of their hard-earned money.

On Friday, Rutledge joined Hutchinson's press conference in Little Rock and emphasized the attorney general's role in protecting consumers from con artists and schemers, but also individuals and businesses tempted to venture into price gouging territory on high-demand items.

Toilet paper, for reasons I can hardly fathom, seems to be at the top of the list. Time to get to the bottom of this.

Joking aside, the attorney general's role as a consumer advocate and protector is important as Arkansans navigate the unfamiliar territory of a pandemic.

To most of us, it would seem a basic principle of decency that people should not use a tragedy or a crisis as an opportunity to make a windfall profit. There are always those, however, who struggle with the concept of basic decency.

Worse than price gouging are the culprits willing to trick people out of their money. They are a creative lot, conjuring all sorts of stories and sales pitches to which some innocent souls will be susceptible.

Rutledge last week described a circumstance in which some people identifying themselves as a "CDC officials" were going door to door offering to sell residents at-home covid-19 test kits. At a press conference Friday she quipped that the public health officials advising the governor would no doubt attest to the fact that they are not, in the midst of their extraordinarily hectic lives right now, making house calls.

The Texarkana Gazette reported on one 86-year-old woman who had received an email with a video attached stoking all sorts of fears about a coming apocalypse, then of course offers to sell her a $37 course on how to survive the chaos and get a recipe for a "supplemental cocktail" that will help people overcome the virus.

Then there are the online scams. They're always there, literally fishing, or phishing, for potential victims by setting virtual lures designed to draw people into their schemes. But with the addition of the coronavirus situation, scammers are prepared to play on people's fears of both disease and social upheaval, such as shortages at the local food stores.

They'll even play on people's spiritual faith. I got an email through my work account the other day detailing how the coronavirus was a prelude to the second coming of Jesus. Setting aside the fact that, for people of the Christian faith, everything is a prelude to the second coming, such unsolicited communications use religious beliefs as a tool to manipulate people into donations or purchases.

Televangelist Jim Bakker, already imprisoned once on fraud charges, promoted a "Silver Solution" as an effective treatment for the virus. The FDA ordered him to stop and he's now been sued by the state of Missouri to prevent him from continuing such claims.

People are best advised to simply ignore emails or websites from unfamiliar people, but especially those seeking some sort of immediate interaction. They don't always start by asking for money or personal financial information, but they will eventually get around to it.

If someone knocks on your door pitching any sort of coronavirus assistance at a cost, take note of their appearance and call your local law enforcement agency with a description.

The Arkansas Attorney General's Office can be reached by calling 1-800-482-8982.

While we're all trying to avoid this virus, don't let your guard down and allow in a different kind of invader.

Commentary on 03/22/2020

Print Headline: Avoid more than virus, Arkansans

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