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Avoid a coronavirus con job

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 many who are anxious about the virus and are looking for cures as well as ways to prevent them from becoming sick. BBB warns to watch out for fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other coronavirus cons.

How the scam works: A quick search on the internet reveals ads promoting preventions or a “cure” for the coronavirus. These are typically found on social media sites, sent in an unsolicited email, or discovered on what looks like a legitimate medical 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 secretly discovered a vaccine but isn’t releasing it for “security reasons.” The fear and anxiety of what could happen take over and the credit card comes out of the wallet.

Don’t do it. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have an approved vaccine or drug 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. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky shut down online operations that were trying to scam people for preregistering for a vaccine that doesn’t exist.

Spot a fraudulent health product by watching out for these red flags: -- Don’t panic. Instead, research: Retain a sense of skepticism when it comes to alarmist and conspiracy theory claims. Avoid making rush decisions into buying anything that seems too good – or crazy – to be true. Always double-check information you see online with official news sources.

-- Question personal testimonials and “miracle” product claims. Be cautious 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.

-- Read into claims of products stating they are “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, see 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. 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.