MATTHEWS — Scammers are cashing in on people’s anxiety about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, says the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina.
As the outbreak worsens, BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports about four major scams.
You want to buy a face mask to help protect yourself — or family — from coronavirus. Masks are sold out in your local stores and many major online sellers. So instead, you turn to purchasing masks from an online shop you don’t know.
Unfortunately, phony online stores abound — especially when an item is in high demand. According to Scam Tracker reports, these phony sellers take victims’ money and never deliver anything at all. One person reported ordering nearly $200 in masks and received no product or response from the seller: “I checked back a few times over the past week to see if there was updated information on a shipping date, but never got more information than that ‘the order was being processed.’” These sites use tricks like limited time deals to entice you into ordering more.
In the worst cases, these sites are actually a way to steal your personal and credit card information, opening you up to identity theft.
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 FTC issued warning letters to several companies claiming they had a product to cure or prevent the virus.
Government Issued Funds
As the coronavirus takes a growing toll on people’s pocketbooks, there are reports that the government will soon be sending money by check or direct deposit to each of us. The details are still being worked out, but there are a few really important things to know, no matter what this looks like.
1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.
2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
As government officials, news outlets and health officials are keeping the public appraised of the COVID-19 situation, consumers are finding the cost of high-demand items, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks and other products skyrocketing. Over the last few weeks, BBB has received reports from consumers about the frequency of scams involving these items and fake cures. Now, state attorneys general offices may need to initiate state price-gouging laws, which will automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from overcharging customers who are preparing to take preventative measures from getting sick.
To report, potential price gouging in North Carolina, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.