COVID-19, commonly called the coronavirus, has been dominating the headlines since it was first reported in December 2019. While the reports of new cases race around the globe, scammers use the fear and uncertainty that the disease has caused to swindle people in a couple of ways.
The first is through the sale of counterfeit or fraudulent face masks. Many people turn to disposable surgical masks to prevent infection from respiratory diseases. With the tensions about the coronavirus running high, many top Amazon sellers and even local stores have reported that they are out of stock.
However, it’s easy to set up an online store — and so many unethical individuals will — promising they have authentic, top-grade surgical masks that people want. The best-case scenario is that you are simply overpaying for the real deal, but the masks you order from an online pop-up may be cheap imitations or simply never arrive. In the worst case, your personal and payment information may have been stolen in a case of identity theft.
It’s important to know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says consumers don’t need to wear masks at all, and should be saved for the medical professionals who need them.
Consumers should also be wary of products claiming to prevent or cure the coronavirus. During the recent Ebola outbreak, so many untested and fraudulent remedies popped up that the U.S. government issued a warning to consumers to steer clear.
The other way that scammers try to cash in on the coronavirus is through phishing emails. They claim to be the CDC or the World Health Organization (WHO), emailing you with news about the disease. Inside, the email has an attachment designed to infect your computer with malicious software. Some might try to scam you into donating to a fake fundraising effort to fight the disease.
Here are a few Better Business Bureau tips to help avoid falling for scams like these:
• Don’t panic. Do your research. Especially in a time of crisis, ignore scammers’ claims that are designed to push you into making a bad decision. Check product claims or unverified information online with official news sources.
• Be wary of personal testimonials and “miracle” results. No one product will be effective against a long list of diseases, and medical remedies take time to research and create. Double-check any claim that seems too good to be true.
• Check with your doctor. If you’re thinking about buying an untested supplement or cure for anything, check with your doctor or health care professional first.
In addition to being knowledgeable about what scammers might try, don’t panic, and do simple health precautions to keep from contracting this virus.
Marjorie Stephens is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.