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By now, we have all heard public health experts declare the need to frequently wash our hands and practice social distancing. While we heed that important advice, we also urge consumers to be on the lookout for an escalating number of pandemic-related scams, hazards and financial challenges. 

From price gouging preventing purchases of critical supplies to fake products promising cures, and from ongoing loan payments to travel cancellations, Arizona PIRG Education Fund wants to help consumers navigate this challenging, confusing time. We’ve prepared a set of guides for consumers which can be found at arizonapirg.org/feature/usp/responding-crisis:

Paying utility bills. Without at least temporary relief and clear communication, Arizonans are likely to face even greater challenges paying utility bills for the foreseeable future. For a list of organizations providing utility assistance, visit wildfireaz.org/find-help/energy-assistance/ or call Wildfire at (602)604-0640.

Travel refunds. Many are wondering how to recoup the costs from cancelled plans. Top airlines and hotels have adjusted their policies and in a number of instances -- highlighted in our guide -- consumers can refund their bookings with each respective company.

Avoiding price gouging. Our guide warns consumers about severe price gouging on online marketplaces, namely Amazon, and includes information about how to identify reasonably priced, effective supplies during the outbreak. 

Identifying phishing scams. As this pandemic intensifies, scammers have seized on people’s fear and confusion to steal their private and/or financial data. Our guide lays out the known phishing scams related to COVID-19 and offers some tips for how consumers can identify new scams and protect themselves. 

Paying off student debt. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans were struggling to pay off the nearly $1.7 trillion owed in student loan debt. Nearly a third of borrowers were in default before -- and that number is likely to grow in the coming months as the COVID-19 pandemic grows more serious. 

With local, state and national leaders calling on people to limit social interactions, self-quarantine, and work from home, many Arizonans are facing reduced hours at work -- or no work at all. Our guide offers potential ways to reduce student loan payments.

As we listen carefully to the medical community’s directions about protecting our health and that of our communities, let’s also make sure our families and friends are guarding against potential threats to our finances -- which in many instances, the repercussions of COVID-19 have already significantly strained or depleted.

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund will continue issuing tips for consumers on financial issues, product safety, food safety, scams and other threats. Please know that government and corporate policies are rapidly changing and if you are seeking the latest policy of a particular entity it is best to directly check their website. 

Diane E. Brown is the executive director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, an organization that conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. Email info@arizonapirg.org with ideas on future guides.

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