Business & Real Estate

Scammers turn coronavirus fears into cash ploy

As the strand of coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 spreads across the United States, people must protect themselves, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the pandemic is bad news for the health of Americans and the U.S. health-care infrastructure, it’s great news for scammers, who are cashing in on anxiety about the disease. The Better Business Bureau advises people to look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures and other coronavirus cons.

How the scams work

You are worried about coronavirus and hear about preventions or a “cure” via social media, 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, warns the BBB. Currently there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, though treatments are in development. No approved vaccines, drugs or products specifically for coronavirus can be purchased online or in stores.

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. The 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

The BBB offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves in the face of fraudulent health-care claims.

• 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 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. Also, testimonials are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.

• It’s “all natural.” Just because it’s natural doesn’t 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.

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