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Contributed photo / Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is on the hunt for a fraudster or fraudsters who tried to scam consumers with text messages saying the recipient is eligible for government coronavirus funds.

The texts falsely claim to be from the office of the attorney general, which includes the Office of Consumer Affairs.

"A complaint was made to the office by someone who got the text," Slatery spokeswoman Samantha Fisher said in response to questions from the Times Free Press following the state issuing an alert.

"We're working to track down the number, but unfortunately, it is difficult to put an end to this conduct because so many scams like this originate from out of the country, which is why these news alerts, etc., are so important," Fisher said.

Slatery's office serves as the Tennessee government's law firm. It doesn't distribute funds of this kind to individuals.

Officials say the texts may include recipients' personal information including name, Social Security number and telephone number. Scammers often use phone calls, social media, text messages and email to target people seeking financial relief with false promises they can get money from the government, the attorney general's office said.

Typically, the scammer will ask for bank account information or a registration fee that the victim is to provide through a prepaid debit card or gift card.

"Legitimate government grants do not require a fee and are not offered to individuals to cover personal expenses," Slatery's office said.

Consumer affairs officials caution no one should provide banking information to someone they don't know and with whom the consumer didn't initiate contact.

"If you receive a phone call or a message like this, do not respond," the office said.

And, if approached by a suspected scam artist, Slatery's office recommends filing a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs at tn.gov/consumer.

Here are some other recommendations from the Consumer Affairs Division:

— Be alert for for phishing and imposter scams that will typically target you online and through email.

— Don't click on links from sources you don't know and be careful with emails that purport to be from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

— Be aware that the Social Security Administration will not suspend or decrease benefit payments due to the pandemic. "Any communication that you receive that claims that is a scam," the state said.

Vaccine scams or fake checks:

Potential scams include being asked to pay out-of-pocket costs to get the free COVID-19 vaccine as well as to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list.

Also, consumers should be wary of ads for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.

The state says government agencies are not sending emails asking for residents' personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic opportunities.

How to file a state consumer complaint:

Report issues of price gouging and fake or misleading produce claims and services to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs by filing a consumer complaint at bit.ly/tn-consumer.

If you need assistance with a complaint, call 615-741-4737 or email consumer.affairs@ag.tn.gov.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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