COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has hit North America. While this is bad news for most Americans and Canadians, it’s great news for scammers who are cashing in on our anxiety about the disease. Look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other coronavirus cons.
How the Scam Works:
You are worried about coronavirus and hear about preventions or a "cure" on social media, in an email, or a website. The message or website contains a lot of information about this amazing product, including convincing testimonials or a conspiracy theory backstory. For example, one scam email claims that the government has discovered a vaccine but is keeping it secret for “security reasons.” You figure it can't hurt to give the medicine a try, so you get out your credit card.
Don't do it! Currently there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, although treatments are in development. No approved vaccines, drugs, or products specifically for coronavirus can be purchased online or in stores. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to several companies claiming they had a product to cure or prevent the virus.
Peddling quack medicines isn't the only way scammers are trying to cash in on coronavirus fears. Con artists are impersonating the CDC and the World Health Organization in phishing emails. These messages claim to have news about the disease and prompt readers to download malicious software. Another scam email tries to con people into donating to a fake fundraising effort, claiming to be a government program to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
How to Spot a Coronavirus Con:
Spot a fraudulent health product by watching out for these red flags:
-Don’t panic. Do your research: Be skeptical of alarmist and conspiracy theory claims and don’t rush into buying anything that seems too good – or crazy – to be true. Always double check information you see online with official news sources.
-Be wary of personal testimonials and “miracle” product claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to immediately cure a wide range of diseases. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases. Also, testimonials are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
-It's "all natural." Just because it's natural does not mean it's good for you. All natural does not mean the same thing as safe.
-Check with your doctor: If you're tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first.
For More Information
Read more about coronavirus scams on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, and see BBB’s alert about counterfeit face masks. Learn more about the disease at the CDC’s FAQ page. Also, the FDA is updating this page about its progress in developing a treatment for coronavirus.
If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.