April 10, 2020

Scammers take no days off — not even during a pandemic.

Consumers have filed over 15,000 complaints claiming nearly $12 million in losses from COVID-19 related scams, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

More than half of the losses were reported in the first nine days of April, Business Insider reports, indicating a startling shift as the coronavirus crisis continues to spread around the globe. Should the current rate of fraudulent claims continue, Americans could reportedly lose more than $100 million by July.

The FTC's report shows California had the highest amount of claims with over 1,700, followed by Florida with 1,057. Travel and vacation scams were the most commonly reported type, followed by online shopping and text message scams.

As the new coronavirus has spread, complaints of price gouging have increased along with it, forcing retailers to come out against the practice and leading some state governments to take action.

It's anyone's guess when the pandemic will lighten up and the economy will reopen, and given the current state of panic and uncertainty surrounding the crisis, the next several months could be especially fertile ground for fraudsters. Marianne Dodson

12:54 p.m.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is bringing out the big guns — by tagging President Trump in his tweets.

On Thursday, Grassley announced his intention to "place holds" on approving Trump administration nominees until he receives satisfactory answers pertaining to the firings of two federal watchdogs, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, CNBC reports. Atkinson was removed in April after informing Congress about the whistleblower complaint regarding Trump's communications with Ukraine that eventually led to his impeachment, while Linick was fired on May 15 on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was reportedly under at least two investigations by Linick's office at the time.

"All I want is a reason 4 firing these ppl," Grassley, who USA Today describes as "usually a staunch Trump ally," wrote Thursday, adding "CHECKS&BALANCES."

Grassley's initial pleas to the administration didn't call out the president specifically, but by Friday Grassley was no longer holding back:

"Canning a watchdog without good reason is bad," Grassley added in a follow-up tweet. "Never even hiring one is outrageous." Trump, who is notoriously Very Online, has yet to respond. Jeva Lange

12:34 p.m.

President Trump's former defense secretary blasted him this week, and the president's former chief of staff is agreeing.

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was interviewed Friday by former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, and they spoke about former Defense Secretary James Mattis recently denouncing Trump as someone who "tries to divide us."

"None of us would take making a statement like that lightly, but there is a concern, I think an awful big concern, that the partisanship has gotten out of hand," Kelly said. "The tribal thing has gotten out of hand. ...He's quite a man, General Jim Mattis, and for him to do that tells you where he is relative to the concern he has for our country."

Asked if he agrees with Mattis, Kelly said yes, "I agree with him," adding, "I think we need to step back from the politics" and "look harder at who we elect" to examine their "character" and "ethics." Kelly warned against sending members of the military to quell protests "unless it's an extremist situation."

Kelly also expressed disapproval of law enforcement officials using using pepper spray to clear protesters out of Lafayette Square so Trump could walk to St. John's Church for a photo-op, saying he would have "recommended against it." And asked by Scaramucci if Trump is a "very stable genius" like he's said, Kelly had no comment on whether he's "stable or unstable."

Kelly had previously rebutted Trump's claim that he fired Mattis, saying the president "has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused." Speaking on this point, Kelly observed Friday that "over time, every relationship" at the White House "begins to deteriorate," not that Scaramucci, who infamously was fired from the White House after just 10 days, wouldn't know.

"I don't have to tell you that," Kelly joked. Brendan Morrow

12:27 p.m.

A multiracial family looking to get away for the weekend were allegedly stalked, and subsequently trapped, by locals who mistook them for being bussed-in members of antifa, Washington state's Peninsula Daily News reports.

The family of four — a husband, wife, their 16-year-old daughter, and the husband's mother — were visiting Forks, Washington, from Spokane, Washington, and had driven the seven-and-a-half-hour distance in a full-sized school bus they planned to use to camp off a logging road near Olympic National Park. The family stopped at Forks Outfitters to get supplies, and were confronted by "seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot" who "repeatedly asked them if they were antifa protesters," according to a press release by Sgt. Ed Anderson. "The family told the people they weren't associated with any such group and were just camping."

When the family left the parking lot, they were trailed by "at least four vehicles," the Peninsula Daily News reports. The family said that "two of the vehicles had people in them carrying what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles."

The family reached their camp site, but the sound of gunshots and power saws down the road made them decide to leave. As they were trying to drive away, they found that someone had sawed down trees in order to trap them in the site so that they couldn't get out.

Local high schoolers helped clear the roadway for the family and the Clallam County Sheriff's Office is reportedly investigating the incident. Heavy reports that posts had been made in local Facebook groups referencing the event, including boasts of "protect your town!" and "u think they realized they [came] to the wrong place yet?" You can read more at Peninsula Daily News, and learn more about the spread of false rumors about antifa agitators here at The Week. Jeva Lange

11:41 a.m.

President Trump made an unprompted prediction of what George Floyd, the man killed last week in the hands of Minneapolis police, would think about the protests over his death.

After a call for "equal justice under the law," Trump vaguely said "we all saw what happened last week. We can't let that happen." "Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country," Trump continued. "This is a great day for him, it's a great day for everybody."

Floyd's death in police custody has sparked international protests against police brutality, particularly against black people. Trump has promised and implemented military action to curb protests, even when most of them have remained peaceful. On Monday, law enforcement used crowd deterrents, including pepper spray and smoke bombs, to clear protesters off of Washington, D.C.'s streets so Trump could take a photo in front of a church. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:14 a.m.

After Friday's unexpectedly positive May jobs report, President Trump's campaign is mocking the "doomsday economists" whose predictions didn't pan out — despite that group including Trump's economic advisers.

The Trump campaign put out a statement on Friday celebrating the report from the Labor Department showing the unemployment rate declined to 13.3 percent and the economy added 2.5 million jobs, a shocking result when economists forecasted the unemployment rate would rise to almost 20 percent with more than eight million jobs lost.

"Doomsday economists had predicted a loss of 8.5 million jobs in May, but the economy roared back and added 2.5 million jobs instead, thanks to President Trump's leadership and the solid foundation his policies have laid," a statement from campaign manager Brad Parscale said.

Trump also called out the inaccurate predictions in a Rose Garden press conference celebrating the numbers, describing what he called the "greatest miscalculation in the history of business shows."

But Kevin Hassett, White House economic adviser, was forecasting a grim May jobs report too, having suggested that the unemployment rate would soar to 20 percent or more. In an interview with CNN less than two weeks ago, he said he expected the unemployment rate to be "quite a bit higher" in May than in April, possibly "north of 20 percent."

Additionally, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned last month after April's report that "the numbers for May are going to be also very difficult numbers," predicting that the economy starting to reopen wouldn't have an effect for "a while." Brendan Morrow

10:49 a.m.

As protests against police brutality have spread across the nation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd last week, nowhere have tensions between demonstrators and the Trump administration been higher than on the president's own doorstep. On Friday, the city of Washington, D.C., made it abundantly clear which side it's on, writing "Black Lives Matter" in 35-foot-tall letters on a two-block stretch of city street just north of the White House:

Notably, the paint being used to write the message is the same as what is used "to draw traffic lanes," Aaron Mehta of Defense News reported. "This ain't washing away anytime soon."

The message comes a day ahead of "what's expected to be a large demonstration on Saturday," DCist reports, as well as "in the wake of days of political fights between Mayor Muriel Bowser and federal officials over a security perimeter centered at the White House." Additionally, on Friday, Bowser sent a letter to Trump asking him to remove "extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from our city," noting that "the protestors have been peaceful, and last night, the Metropolitan Police Department did not make a single arrest."

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter spoke out against the mural going up on the city streets, calling it a "performative distraction from real policy changes." The message is meant "to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands," the group added. "Black Lives Matter means defund the police." Jeva Lange

10:05 a.m.

Friday morning's stunning job report is already being celebrated by the White House as unemployment unexpectedly fell to 13.3 percent in May. But even as forecasters have scrambled to understand how their predictions were so far off, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman stressed on Twitter that "whatever happened, these numbers should make you more, not less, pessimistic about the economic outlook."

Huh? As Krugman goes on to explain, the seemingly encouraging job report could actually "reinforce the White House inclination to do nothing and let emergency aid expire."

That's alarming to Krugman and other analysts because what May's job numbers do seem to prove is that the Payroll Protection Program, which encouraged small businesses to keep workers on payroll during the pandemic, was instrumental in helping bring back workers in May. "U.S. unemployment [is] at 13 percent [with] trillions in government aids," wrote The Washington Post's Jeffrey Stein. "What happens when huge infusion runs dry in July?"

But as of Thursday night, the Post was reporting that President Trump's recovery plan "largely amounts to optimism that as pandemic restrictions are loosened, the nation's economy will turn the lights back on by itself." As the Post goes on to explain, Trump is hesitant to offer states further aid, and opposes extending the soon-to-expire $600 unemployment bonus for laid-off workers.

White House economic adviser Stephen Moore seemed to confirm Krugman's fears. "There's no reason to have a major spending bill," he said in response to Friday's job numbers. "The sense of urgent crisis is very greatly dissipated by the report."

Not everyone shares the opinion that the job report lets the federal government off the hook. "The jobless rate, even if it declines, I believe is going to stay extremely high through the end of the year," former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen told the Post. "It's absolutely essential to have another package that will extend unemployment benefits beyond the summer. That's going to be tremendously needed." Jeva Lange

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