Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy as we continue to move through the pandemic. We have a long way to go but because of the physical distancing efforts of Multnomah County community members and the dedication of front line responders, we are flattening the curve. Thank you to everyone who is helping to reduce the harm of COVID-19.
One effect of the pandemic is that the deadline to complete the census has been extended to October 31. It only takes a few minutes to complete. If you haven’t completed your census, yet, why not take care of it after reading my newsletter?
The primary election is May 19! Learn about what’s on the ballot and more here.
Read on to learn more about the recently released Good Government Hotline Report, the 2020 Salary Commission’s report, and information on COVID-19 scams.
Good Government Hotline Report Released
This month, my office released its annual Good Government Hotline Report. Organizations with hotlines experience significantly fewer fraud losses than organizations without hotlines. And tips are by far the most effective method for detecting fraud. For governments with hotlines, 66% of fraud cases are detected by tip.
Beginning in July of 2019, we changed some of our processes to make the hotline more accountable to employees and community members. We did extensive outreach to employees to educate them about the types of reports we investigate, and those that we cannot, which appeared to have an impact. After our outreach efforts, fraud, waste and abuse reports increased. To learn more, read the full 2019 report on my website.
Salary Commission Report Released
The 2020 Salary Commission has released the 2020 Salary Commission Report. The Commission sets the salaries for the Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, County Commissioners, the Sheriff, and the County-paid supplemental salary of the District Attorney. (The Salary Commission does not recommend a salary for the County Auditor, who appoints the Commission. County Charter states that the County Auditor’s salary will be 4/5 of a circuit court judge’s salary.) The Commission met frequently since January to make salary determinations. I want to thank Salary Commissioners Heather Pedersen, Jennifer Martinez, LeeAnna Rappelyea, Koffi Dessou, and Elisabeth Nunes for all of their hard work, dedication, and thoughtfulness.
COVID-19 scams continue to circulate throughout the U.S. and in Oregon. In fact, Multnomah County restaurant owners were targeted in a recent scam. In that case, a fraudster called restaurant owners and demanded payment for fictitious COVID-19 related fines.
Times of crisis are when fraudsters often work overtime. It is a common tactic for fraudsters to prey upon our fears and anxieties. In recent memory, there is possibly no greater period of anxiety than what we are collectively experiencing right now, as we deal with the ramifications of COVID-19: tragedy, lost jobs and lost incomes, and complete changes in lifestyle as many of us spend most of our time at home, without many of the social supports we are used to.
Daily reports from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explore some of the ways that fraudsters are taking advantage of people. What is particularly useful about the FTC data is that it gives us a real-time perspective of the schemes currently percolating, and the fraud losses accumulating.
From January 1 through April 16, U.S. consumers have reported over $15 million in fraud losses to COVID-19 related fraud scams, with a median loss of $559. Interestingly, travel and vacation scams top the list in both the volume of scams (16% of reports) and the dollar losses (almost $6 million in total).Particularly concerning is the number of “government imposter” frauds. Consumers have reported losses of $1.2 million to these scams, where an email, text, or call purports to be from the government. This fraudulent pitch may have to do with COVID-19 testing, Medicare benefits, or stimulus payments. Keep in mind that the government will not email, text, or call you to ask for personal information such as your social security number, bank account number, or other personal information. Many of these schemes ask for payment by wire payment, bitcoin, or gift card. These are red flags of any fraud scheme. Do not pay.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is advising people to be on the lookout for a number of different COVID-19 related scams, including blackmail attempts. The blackmail scams use a classic scam that has been circulating for years, but adds a COVID-19 twist. Typically with these scams, a scammer will claim to have control of your computer and will threaten to expose “dirty secrets,” or other personal information. Horrifically, according to the FBI, currently circulating blackmail scams up the ante, threatening to not only expose your personal information, but to infect your and your family with the coronavirus unless a payment is made by bitcoin.
To avoid becoming a victim of a fraud scheme, be vigilant, do not give out personal information, and be wary of requests for payment by wire transfer, bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, or gift card. For information relevant to fraud schemes, consult authoritative sources such as the Oregon Department of Justice, Consumer Protection division, the FBI, and the FTC.
Helpful COVID-19 Links
If you would like information on how to stay healthy, slow the spread of coronavirus, or how to report any issues, please visit https://multco.us/novel-coronavirus-covid-19.
Unfortunately, some communities have experienced acts of racism and xenophobia because of the myths surrounding COVID-19; this county site has information about how to report discrimination and find support.
If you are at work and your employer does not seem to be following public health directives, you can report that to Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division.
This page contains resources to support our communities as we experience the COVID-19 pandemic and get through this together.