Beginning on May 1, 2020, Pennsylvania will allow businesses that are involved in construction to open. These construction businesses must follow state guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Reopening construction will allow some workers to return to their jobs and some people to move into their new homes.  

However, just because Pennsylvania construction is allowed to reopen, it DOES NOT mean that construction businesses can just show up at a job site and start back to work.  Construction businesses will need to plan and schedule their work to comply with state and federal guidelines.  

Who is Permitted to Reopen?

The Governor’s order applies to: 

all businesses in the construction industry in the Commonwealth, including those in new construction, renovation, and repair, as well as land subdivision and design-related field activities.

This designation includes 

  • residential construction and remodeling 
  • commercial and industrial construction, and
  • municipal projects. 

Municipal inspectors should also be back to work, as the order also includes

in-person inspection and appraisals related to construction financing loans, and UCC building code plan review and inspection services…

Hopefully, this means that building permits and certificates of occupancy will resume.

What Restrictions Need to Be in Place?

All construction businesses will need to follow specific safety procedures. These include:

  • Requiring every person at a worksite to wear a face mask
  • Maintaining 6-foot social distancing unless the specific task requires reducing the distance. The state’s guidance gives examples like drywalling or team lifting.
  • Providing handwashing stations at the worksite
  • Implementing cleaning and sanitizing procedures
  • Prohibiting meetings of 10 or more people
  • Reducing the sharing tools and equipment
  • Staggering breaks and lunches
  • Prohibiting employees from driving to work sites together where possible
  • Implementing processes to make sure workers who are sick stay home
  • Identifying a “Pandemic Safety Officer” for each work site.  

Residential Construction

Residential construction, in particular, has additional requirements. These projects may not allow more than four people at the worksite at any one time.  

This restriction does not apply to persons performing material deliveries or inspections or to anyone else who needs temporary access to the job site.

Commercial Construction

For commercial construction, this four-person limit applies to any enclosed project that is 2,000 square feet and under. Builders may have one extra person on-site for every additional 500 square feet. These limits also apply to all employees of contractors and subcontractors.  That means that a project cannot have four plumbers, four electricians, four drywallers, etc., all working on top of each other.

**UPDATE 5/4/20** The four-person per 2,000 square foot limit applies only to people working on the inside of a building. It does not count people working outside. People working outside only have to keep social distancing protocols, and there is no numerical limit on them.

The state is also encouraging large work projects to have a Work Safety Plan. PennDOT has provided a good outline for restarting construction projects here

Municipal Construction

In addition, the state is encouraging municipalities and local political units to postpone non-essential projects. Pennsylvania will not allow any contractor to resume a municipal project until the municipality authorizes starting. 

Municipalities can also add additional requirements to social distancing and safety measures.  

Are There Any Unanswered Questions?

Component Manufacturers

The order does not exactly say that Pennsylvania is permitting component manufacturers – like cabinet companies – to reopen. However, it seems like everyone is including manufacturers in the reopening. I suppose that this also includes people who install security systems or IT equipment.  

If you have questions about whether your business is permitted to reopen, you should start by checking your NAICS codes. The list of businesses PA is allowing to reopen includes specific NAICS codes. 

Municipality-Specific Issues

While the order allows building inspections and plan reviews to continue, it does not require any municipality to perform these tasks in person. Plus, a municipality or inspector may have additional procedures or scheduling issues.  

As one example, maybe municipal offices need to stagger work times to keep to social distancing guidelines. Just like construction projects, municipal reviews might not be back to normal.

Everyone should understand the requirements and limitations of getting back to work during this period.  If you have questions about how COVID-19 may affect your construction contracts, read more here

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

On April 24, 2020, the House of Representatives signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (the “PPP and HCE Act” or “Act”) into law. Here are some highlights regarding this new $484 billion Act.

Paycheck Protection Program Gets More Funding

The PPP and HCE Act includes $310 billion in additional funding for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”). The House also included provisions to help smaller businesses who may be more likely to seek aid from smaller lenders. Therefore, of this $310 billion, the SBA will direct $60 billion to smaller lenders, credit unions, and community banks:

  • $30 billion to lenders with assets valued at less than $10 billion, and 
  • $30 billion for lenders with assets between $10 and $50 billion. 

Besides the additional funding to the PPP, there are no changes to the program itself. The eligible loan amounts remain the same as do program requirements. The PPP will stop taking applications on June 30, 2020, although analysts do not anticipate the additional $310 billion to last two weeks. Some commentators believe the funds will dry up in just two days.  

There were a plethora of applications that were still pending when the funding ran out. These older applications in the pipeline will likely be received and funded before any new applications. Demand for this program is high: the SBA already guaranteed 1 million PPP loans, and the overall average loan size was $206,000.  

If you wish to apply for a PPP loan, you must do so now.

A lot of borrowers have asked for guidance on the forgiveness aspect of the PPP, and more direction is coming shortly. Analysts anticipate that the SBA will issue guidance for PPP forgiveness this week.  

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program Gets More Funding

In addition to re-funding the PPP, the PPP and HCE Act adds $60 billion in funds to the depleted SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan and grant program (the “EIDL”). Of these EIDL funds, the SBA will direct $10 billion towards emergency grants of up to $10,000 per borrower and the remaining $50 billion to fund loans through the EIDL.  

If a borrower receives a grant through this program, the SBA will not require them to repay it.  

This Act also permits agricultural enterprises to apply for EIDL funds. Under prior law, they were generally not permitted to apply.  

Hospitals Receive Money for Funding and Testing

While it would be easy to focus on the small business loans that were provided the lion’s share of this Act’s funding, the House also allotted significant financing for healthcare purposes. 

The PPP and HCE Act allocates the sum of $75 billion to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the “HHS”) to reimburse providers for the cost of treating COVID-19 patients, including the diagnosis, testing, and treatment of those inflicted.  

The Act also authorizes an additional $25 billion to develop and implement a national plan regarding testing protocols for COVD-19.  

These testing funds will be provided to states and localities in addition to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. The $25 billion is not only for the testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 but also for the screening for possible immunity.   

Nichole Baer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Stetson University, College of Law and practices in several areas, including BusinessCommercial Real EstateEstate Planning, and Estate Administration.

In the past few weeks, we have looked at many of the economic stimulus and consumer protection parts of the CARES Act. A minor section in the Act has also corrected the “Retail Glitch” of 2018’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This correction will now allow business owners to depreciate improvements and equipment – including restaurant equipment – much faster than before. It may also entitle businesses to amend tax returns for 2018 and 2019 and even receive a refund.

What was the Retail Glitch?

The TCJA intended to allow business owners to depreciate their qualified leasehold improvement property, restaurant property, and retail improvement property (collectively “Qualified Improvement Property” or “QIP”) over 15 years. The TCJA also contained a provision for “Bonus Depreciation.” Provided that it has a depreciation period of fewer than 20 years, bonus depreciation allowed 100% of the value of this QIP to be depreciated in the year that the leaseholder placed the property into service. For example, a business owner could have deducted up to $ 1 million of QIP in the year that they put improvements put in place.

Unfortunately, TCJA did not include QIP in the list of items with a 15-year depreciation period. That meant that QIP was not eligible for bonus depreciation, and the TCJA actually required it to be depreciated over 39 years.

How did the CARES Act fix the Retail Glitch?

The CARES Act has fixed this drafting error, and QIP is now generally depreciable over 15 years. Because of this change, QIP is also eligible for bonus depreciation if it was acquired and placed in service after January 1, 2018, but before January 1, 2023.

This correction applies retroactively. That is, the CARES Act allows a taxpayer to amend their 2018 and 2019 tax returns to take advantage of the bonus depreciation. Amending your returns could result in refunds on the taxes paid during those years.

Exceptions to Bonus Depreciation for QIP

There are a few qualifiers and exceptions to this benefit. I will not go through them all, so you should discuss this issue with your tax professional. But generally, some of the noteworthy exceptions are:

  • QIP must have been acquired during the applicable period. If you put the QIP into service before January 1, 2018, for example, the old rule limits bonus depreciation to only 50% of the costs.
  • Generally, QIP must be new. It cannot be property that a business or affiliate used before or that the business purchased if the property was used to calculate the seller’s basis in the property. 
  • If the business made an election under Section 163(j)(3) of the Tax Code, they are not eligible for bonus depreciation. Very generally, Section 163(j) of the Tax Code limits the amount of interest expense that a business can deduct. Certain kinds of businesses, including a “real property trade or business,” can make an irrevocable election avoid this limitation.
  • For partnerships, a tax refund is generally not available for 2018 and 2019 returns. If the partnership elects to adjust the returns for those years, they should receive a tax credit for the year that the adjustments were filed. There are new, complicated rules for auditing partnerships that come into play with this correction. You should definitely talk to your tax professional about this.

Even without the bonus depreciation, the correction in the CARES Act also clarifies depreciation rules for improvement property. For example, restaurant equipment now gets a useful life (for tax purposes – your mileage may vary) of 15 years instead of 39. 

Overall, bonus depreciation provides useful options for businesses that qualify. Make sure that you discuss these issues with your financial team, including your accountant, attorney, banker, and others.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

As uncertainty becomes the new normal, those of you going through the already tumultuous process of divorce may have questions about how this pandemic and the economic shutdown will affect your case. Staying in touch with your lawyer during this difficult time will help you talk through and anticipate the economic impact of divorce during COVID-19.

At Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, we are fully available to answer questions about how the current COVID-19 situation may impact ongoing divorces. Even though our courts are operating on a limited basis right now, it is still a good time to ask questions and get sound legal advice so you can be prepared. We need to identify what we can and anticipate strategies for dealing with matters that may come up in your divorce.

This post will highlight the main aspects of the divorce process that will be most affected during this pandemic: equitable distribution and valuation of assets. Some distribution and valuation issues affected by this crisis are complex, and some are as yet unknown. So, in future blog posts, I will explore some of these issues in greater depth.

But for now, let’s consider overall how COVID-19 may impact your divorce case.

Will COVID-19 change the percentage of the assets I may be entitled to? 

Possibly. The Divorce Code enumerates eleven factors the courts should consider for Equitable Distribution, which means the fair division of assets and debts. There are also seventeen factors it considers for Alimony. Perhaps the most significant factor in both Equitable Distribution and Alimony is the employment situation and income of each party. Obviously, the shutdown of many businesses is impacting both significantly. 

Being out of work during this crisis (depending on how long that impact lasts) may well be a factor in your divorce. In the interim, you will want to speak with your attorney both about your current situation and the future impact it may have. For example, you may

  • regain some, but not all aspects of your employment 
  • be in a job that looks different and has altered expectations
  • be in an industry that will not be able to rebound fully, decreasing your hours worked or overall pay
  • have health issues that put you at risk and impact your ability to work, or
  • need to care for others who are ill or children who are not in school. 

Some of these issues may only be temporary, but others may not be. Depending on how long COVID-19 lasts, these may be significant considerations in determining a fair division of assets and debts. You will want to keep your lawyer informed so they can best represent you in the divorce process.

Will COVID-19 affect the value of my assets?

Most likely, yes. The volatile market and uncertain business futures are also impacting the values of property. The courts consider these values when calculating Equitable Distribution. Whether you are negotiating to resolve your divorce issues or litigating in court, you should stay on top of the changing values of your property.

From an Equitable Distribution perspective, the economic fallout of this pandemic will impact a few categories of assets in particular: 

Retirement Accounts

COVID-19-related downturns have dramatically affected retirement accounts like IRAs and 401Ks because they are tied to the stock market, significantly reducing their value. Keep monitoring these accounts and let your counsel know of their status. 

Real Estate

The current situation may well impact the values of any real estate you have as part of your marital assets. You may want to consider updating the value of your property by conducting a new appraisal. 

Business Entities

Finally, there may be a business entity included as part of the assets in your divorce. COVID-19 may affect many of the value considerations in business valuations.

All three of these categories of assets have unique valuation considerations in light of the COVID-19 crisis. In future blog posts, I will be discussing them in more detail. If you have questions about how the pandemic may impact your custody agreements, check out my colleague’s article Custody During COVID-19: What’s Best for the Kids?

For now, be aware of the potential economic implications of COVID-19 on property distribution and asset values in divorce cases, and keep your attorney informed. We do not have all of the answers right now. However, working with knowledgeable counsel and asking the right questions will keep you on the right track in these times of uncertainty.

Julia Vanasse is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP. She represents individuals dealing with both simple and complex family law matters. She previously served as a Divorce Master in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for almost 20 years and helped countless litigants resolve difficult and complex divorce matters.

The Lancaster Small Business Emergency Fund is a new fund composed of grants and loans designed to provide COVID-19 relief to small businesses located in the City of Lancaster. There is $1.45 million available in the fund, with $200,000 of that available as grants. The fund will offer the remaining amount as low interest and flexible loans.  

A variety of entities helped to create this new fund, including the:

  • City of Lancaster
  • ASSETS
  • Community First Fund
  • EnCourage Lancaster Crowdfunding Campaign (you can contribute here on their GoFundMe page)
  • Fulton Bank
  • Ferree Foundation
  • High Foundation 

The funds will be managed by ASSETS and Community First Fund, which are both Lancaster 501(c)(3) nonprofits.  

Qualifications

To apply for a grant, a business must

  • be located in Lancaster City 
  • have under $500,000 in annual revenue

To apply for a loan, a business must

  • be located in Lancaster City 
  • have under $1,000,000 in annual revenue

If an individual owns multiple businesses that qualify, they can only apply for funding for ONE of their companies. 

Application Process

This is NOT a first-come, first-serve fund.  They will consider all applications submitted before the deadline based on the following characteristics: 

  1. longevity in business
  2. long term sustainability
  3. historic profitability
  4. local economic and community impact of business
  5. positive business practices
  6. location of the business in Lancaster City
  7. impact on the streetscape of Lancaster City
  8. number of employees
  9. likelihood of survival of funds are received, and 
  10. severity of current need

As this is a new program, the Review Committee might also add further priorities or otherwise change eligibility criteria.  

However, the application process promises to be simple and with a low barrier. There will be two separate applications, one for the grant and one for the loan.  

The Review Committee will receive applications from April 29th to May 10th, 2020. Interested applicants can find the forms on the Lancaster Small Business Emergency Fund‘s website when they are posted.  

Required Documents

For the grant application, required documents include:

  •  the most recent federal tax return of the business.  

For the loan application, required documents include a: 

  • 2018 business tax return
  • 2019 business tax return or internally prepared financials for December 31st, 2019
  • listing of all personal assets, liabilities, and net worth, and 
  • list of all business and personal debt

The fund will also pull credit reports and conduct lien searches on businesses if applying for a loan through the fund.  

Nichole Baer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Stetson University, College of Law and practices in several areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateEstate Planning, and Estate Administration.

As if the fears and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus aren’t enough, many parents may find themselves having to balance concern for their children’s health with their current custody agreement. How do you keep what is best for your children at heart when navigating decisions about custody during COVID-19?

Open conversation between both parents is the key.

First and foremost, parents need to realize that this is a time to work together in finding a solution that is best for the children and to put any other differences aside. Open up a dialogue with each other and discuss your concerns based on the facts available to you. Chances are good that you both may already be on the same page. And hopefully, you can agree on a temporary solution. 

Ways to Increase Connection

You may find yourselves in a situation where you fear the kids may be at risk at one parent’s house, leaving the other parent with significantly fewer visitation privileges than usual.

Here are some suggestions to help keep your children connected to their socially distant parent:

Video chat! 

Technology today gives us options that are great for social distancing. The parent that is missing out on periods of custody can regularly Facetime, Zoom, Skype, or have a Hangouts call with the kids so that they can still have quality time together.  

Makeup Periods. 

Plan to have makeup periods of custody after the threat is over. Remember, this is for the kids. It’s not a punishment for you.

Drive-by Visits

Plan a drive-by where the kids can wave and talk to the other parent from a front yard.

Special Activities to Create a Connection

Plan an activity for the kids each day where they can make something special for the other parent. After it’s completed, the child can send it in the mail or give it in person when this crisis is over.

Temporary Agreements

What some parents either don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge is that your custody agreement can be changed if both parties are in agreement. If either one of you is uncomfortable with deviating from what the agreement states, you can always put a temporary agreement in writing.

Navigating temporary agreements is something your attorney can help you accomplish.

Emergency Relief

Depending on the severity of the risk involved, you may be able to request emergency relief from the court. You may be in the unfortunate situation where

  • discussion is not an option and
  • there could be an increased risk of infection at one parent’s house. 

But please understand that you cannot simply refuse to follow your current agreement. Doing so could land you in trouble with the court and cause unfortunate issues in the future. 

We are slowly learning what types of issues the Courts are willing to address on an emergency basis while the Courthouses are closed. In most cases, the parties or their attorneys will need to participate in some form, like appearing virtually in a video chat.

The process will likely take a bit longer than you may be used to if you’ve been through it before. And be forewarned: this type of relief requires you to overcome a relatively high burden. For these reasons, this is something that you would be better off navigating through with the help of an attorney.  

Love and Support

If you find yourself having to deal with COVID-19, remember that your kid’s lives have been dramatically changed by this already. They’ve been pulled out of school and kept away from their friends.

What your children need most is the love and support of their parents to help them adjust to this unprecedented situation. 

So start by talking to the other parent and trying to work out a reasonable solution. And remember that your attorney is there for you if you need us. We can help you figure out how to divide your stimulus payment too. Plan some fun time with your kids, and embrace whatever change in your schedule is best for your family. 

Keep calm, wash your hands, and stay healthy!

Kathleen Krafft Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University and regularly advises individuals on legal matters related to family law and domestic relations issues.

When I am preparing a client’s living will, it is by far the most common choice for them to indicate that they desire no extraordinary measures. One of the extraordinary measures specifically spelled out in a living will is mechanical ventilation.  

But what if you need a ventilator for a COVID-19-related hospitalization?

The current state of ventilators in Pennsylvania

I do not recall a time when mechanical ventilators were receiving more worldwide attention than right now.  

The main reason for all of the shelter in place orders is to flatten to curve. We need to allow the medical community the ability to keep up with the demand. One of the most in-demand medical devices essential to treating severe cases of COVID-19 is the ventilator.  

Ventilators are so crucial in our current climate that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has a public dashboard to view the total number of ventilators in Pennsylvania and the total in use at any one time. 

As of the time of publication, Pennsylvania has 5,122 ventilators and 653 COVID-19 patients on ventilators. Don’t forget: ventilators continue to be needed for other health issues as well. At the time of publishing, 1,461 ventilators were in use in total in Pennsylvania.

Living wills and COVID-19 ventilation

Many clients have asked me: Will my living will prevent me from having a ventilator if I contract COVID-19 and require one? 

The short answer is no.

In most cases, a living will will not prevent the use of a ventilator should you require one.  

A living will does not become effective every time you are ill. Rather, a living will only impacts your care when you are 

  • in the end-stage of a medical condition with no hope of recovery and 
  • unable to communicate your wishes.  

There have been many stories of people requiring ventilation from COVID-19 and making a full recovery. While the mortality rate varies among different age groups, even for the elderly, COVID-19 is not considered end-stage at the point of ventilation

How living wills can prevent you from receiving a ventilator for COVID-19 under certain circumstances

The fact that your living will states you do not want the use of mechanical ventilation will not prevent the use of a ventilator in the event one is necessary due to contracting COVID-19.

That is, unless:

  • you have another condition that doctors have deemed terminal, AND 
  • it is actively killing you, AND 
  • death is imminent, AND 
  • you cannot communicate your wishes.

If you do not want a ventilator even in the case of COVID-19, you must communicate that to your health care agent while you are still able to communicate.  If and when you become unable to communicate, your health care agent needs to know what you do and do not want.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.

The March 16, 2020 declaration of a statewide judicial emergency has dramatically reduced the functions of the Lancaster County Courthouse. This declaration has also closed the Lancaster County Register of Wills, effectively halted the probating of any wills in Lancaster County. Consequently, all estates requiring probate have been in a holding pattern.  

For more information on the other implications of the judicial emergency, check out this article on the closure of the courts by Laura E. McGarry.  

Thankfully, relief is on the way for some who are probating during COVID-19.

Video conferencing for emergency circumstances

As of April 14, 2020, Judge Ashworth issued an order authorizing — but not requiring — the Register of Wills to administer oaths via video conference relating to 

  • the grant of letters of estate administration and 
  • marriage licenses

However, the courts are currently suffering from a large backlog and significant staff shortage. It seems, therefore, that the courts are only processing estates and marriage licenses with emergency circumstances.  

What we can do for new estates

As new estates are coming into our offices, we are working with clients to determine if emergency circumstances exist. Where they do not, we are working on transferring assets that do not require a short certificate and preparing petitions for those that do.

That way, we will be ready to proceed as 

  • the video conferencing becomes more readily available or 
  • the Register of Wills reopens to the public.  

We will continue to update clients as new information becomes available.

If you have a loved one who has recently passed and have questions about how this shutdown impacts your situations, contact  Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP to discuss your options with one of our attorneys. Although we have closed our physical office, our virtual office is open for business.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.

With the stay-at-home directives implemented in response to the threat posed by COVID-19, we have all been spending a lot more time at home. For some, minor (maybe, major) adjustments had to be made to figure out how to handle being stuck in a seemingly cramped house with our families 24/7. 

Even in the best of situations, this can be a struggle.  

But for others, being stuck at home can create serious new tensions or flare pre-existing ones. In some cases, these hostilities can lead to violent encounters that place the health and safety of family members within the home at risk. When that happens, it is often necessary for a person who is experiencing abuse, as defined in the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act, to obtain a Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) Order to protect themselves or their children from ongoing abuse. 

Even with the closure of courts in Pennsylvania, it is possible to obtain a PFA Order.

In Lancaster County, the court has issued an Administrative Order addressing how the court will function during the closure and, specifically, the process for obtaining a PFA. 

Courts in other counties in Pennsylvania have issued similar administrative orders that address PFAs and other court functions. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is maintaining a list of the administrative orders issued throughout the Commonwealth. 

If you or someone you know are in immediate or imminent danger, contact 911 for immediate assistance. Additional resources are available to those experiencing abuse through the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has highly-trained advocates who can provide support even if you are unable to speak safely. 

Applying for a PFA Order

Despite the fact that the Lancaster County Courthouse is closed to the public, those seeking a PFA Order can still enter the courthouse for the purpose of applying for a PFA Order at the Bail Administration Office. The Court is hearing emergency PFA petitions at 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. each day, during which a judge will decide if the facts in the PFA Petition are sufficient to allow the court to enter a Temporary PFA Order.  If you have any questions, you can contact the Lancaster County Bail Administration Office at 717-295-3584. 

If the court issues a Temporary PFA Order, a Final PFA hearing will take place at a later date. The courts have suspended all final PFA hearings until further Order of Court. This action means that any Temporary PFA Order issued during the court closure will remain in place until the courts hold the Final PFA Hearing unless otherwise indicated in the Temporary Order.  

If the courts issue a Temporary PFA Order, they will serve the perpetrator of abuse with a copy of it. The perpetrator will then be required to abide by any of the requirements listed in the Order, which can include: 

  • refraining from engaging in abuse 
  • exclusion from a shared residence 
  • transfer of custody of any minor children 
  • prohibiting contact with those protected under the Temporary Order, and
  • prohibiting the acquisition or possession of any firearms. 

If the courts have granted you a Temporary PFA Order and your abuser is not abiding by the terms, contact 911 to report the violation. 

If you are facing an emergency that requires court intervention, contact Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP to discuss your options with one of our attorneys. Although we have closed our physical office, our virtual office is open for business.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.

A few days ago, I noticed some unusual charges on one of my credit cards, including a $60 charge for Chipotle, which, while delicious, is not an establishment I have been frequenting during the quarantine. (Although I really could go for a carnitas bowl right about now.) It only took me a few minutes to realize that my card had been compromised, and the thief was using it without my authorization. 

Credit card theft is frustrating in ordinary circumstances, but even more annoying during a global pandemic that has left my husband, also an attorney, and I working from home full-time while taking care of our two young children.  Fighting fraud is the last thing I want to be doing. 

A few days later, I received an email from a company that provides continuing legal education, informing me that someone had hacked their system. The company told me that someone had gotten access to their customers’ credit card information, including mine. It made me realize that everyone, including lawyers (who often think they are savvier than the common or even technologically sophisticated criminal), is susceptible to fraud and scams.  

Now, in the time of COVID-19, we are even more vulnerable to data privacy scammers and cyber attackers who are taking advantage of those who are already facing financial, emotional, and personal difficulties brought on by the global health crisis.   

Many federal agencies have created websites to help consumers identify fraud and scams so that they can avoid them or seek help if they fall prey to the schemes, including the 

What types of scams and fraud should I be looking for?

Since COVID-19 began, several kinds of fraud and scams have surfaced, including:

  • offers for fake cures, vaccines, and unproven treatments
  • fake shops and websites offering to sell high demand medical supplies like masks and hand sanitizer;
  • fake testing kits
  • charity scams
  • phishing scams where scammers to trick you into clicking on or downloading a link that allows them access to your computer and any personal and financial information you have stored
  • phone calls and emails asking for personal and financial information in exchange for help applying for things like grants, stimulus checks, loans, or unemployment compensation, etc.
  • fraudulent offers for medical advice or COVID-19 testing in exchange for Medicare beneficiary information that the scammer then uses to file bogus claims, and
  • investment scams asking you to invest money in publicly traded companies that the scammer falsely suggests will be able to prevent, cure or detect COVID-19

Unfortunately, this list is not exhaustive of all of the types of scams and fraudulent schemes that are out there. As fast as criminal scammers can develop their schemes is as fast as consumers face the threat of falling prey to their tactics.  

How can I protect myself from falling for a scam or fraudulent scheme?

The various federal governmental agencies listed above have also provided guidance on how to avoid falling for COVID-19-related scams. Their advice includes taking some or all the following steps:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19. Do not rely on the person contacting you to verify their identity. Independently search for the organization or individual and call them to verify the information.  
  • Check the websites you are directed to. For instance, the CDC’s website is cdc.gov. A scammer may try to entice you to visit a fraudulent website, like cdc.org, that is similar but not the real website.
  • Question any unsolicited offers for supplies, treatment, or other assistance, especially if they ask you for any personal or financial information.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unverified or unknown sources.  
  • Ignore offers for COVID-19 treatment, tests, or cures that do not come directly from your trusted health care providers.
  • Be wary of any organization that asks you to provide payment or donations in cash, wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail.  
  • Hang up on illegal robocalls.

Who can I trust?

If you are concerned that something sounds like a scam, it probably is. Stick to obtaining information from trusted sources, including:

As always, be cautious of anything that seems suspicious or too good to be true. It is important to remain vigilant — both now and after the COVID-19 crisis is over — to make sure that you are taking all of the steps necessary to protect yourself and your finances. The last thing you need amid dealing with this global health crisis is to put your personal information or finances at even greater risk.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.