5 steps to avoid coronavirus cure scams and other pandemic con tricks: Internet Scambusters #899
If you recently read about a coronavirus cure, we hope you didn't act on it. Because there isn't one -- so far at least.
Nor do you necessarily need to buy and wear a mask or invest in companies that will supposedly make a lot of money from this crisis. And beware of donating to fake charities claiming to be supporting research and treatment.
We'll tell you more about these con tricks relating to pandemic disease outbreaks in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
Coronavirus Cure Claims are Just Scams
We'd all be delighted, wouldn't we, if someone announced a coronavirus cure? Of if there was a simple way to protect against coronavirus. Like coronavirus masks, vaccines, or pills that were guaranteed to work.
Well, as with all pandemics and global virus outbreaks, there's no shortage of people claiming they've got just these solutions. They've got the cure; they've got the drugs; they've got the protective masks.
Of course, most of them are scams. As of this writing, there is no cure, not even a tested vaccine. There are no miracle pills.
And most masks offer only limited protection. For instance, if you touch an infected object and later touch your unguarded face when you take the mask off, you could still be at risk.
Wash your hands! Eighty percent (80%) of all infections are spread by touch.
We're not scaremongering, but we're highlighting the dangers of being tricked by a coronavirus scam into thinking you're safe.
Ads and fake news reports making dishonest claims are spreading like wildfire.
Social Media Carriers
Social media networks are alarmed at becoming carriers -- not of the illness but of phony claims.
In fact, Facebook has already announced a ban on ads offering a cure or preventative treatment and it looks like Google is filtering out coronavirus cure claims in online searches.
Instead, in both cases, if you search on the word "coronavirus" you'll get useful information about the illness, not dubious claims. Facebook also includes a link to the latest information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Amazon says it has blocked or removed more than a million products it thinks are making false claims about protection. The retailing giant has also identified and removed sellers who are price-gouging for face masks.
However, the picture is made murkier by official claims (the latest was from Vietnam) to have cured the illness, when what has really happened is that victims have been effectively nursed through the illness and emerged healthy out the other side.
In fact, that's what really does happen for most victims worldwide. We tend to read only about the deaths. There are certainly hundreds or thousands of scientists searching for a cure, but that could be a long way off. After all, we don't even have a cure for flu yet! It still kills thousands every year.
Five Steps to Avoid a Scam
So, while we wait for an effective vaccine to emerge, here are five key things you should do to avoid getting sucked into a coronavirus or other pandemic scam:
1. Don't respond to any claims about cures, safety, vaccines, or other protection without first checking with official sources, notably the CDC. This site is updated virtually every day and is the go-to source of reliable information.
But watch out for messages claiming to be from the CDC. Scammers are pitching them too. Just use the link above to get the real facts.
2. Watch out for other email, text, and online links about news or products relating to the disease, especially those pointing to supposed breakthroughs. Never click these links as they may lead to downloads of another virus you don't want -- computer malware.
This may also be an opportunity for scammers to use the well-known "relative-in-distress" or "friend-in-distress" calls, which trick victims into sending money to someone posing as a friend or relative.
Or they may just turn up at your front door with a collecting box. Don't give. Politely decline and say you choose to make your charitable donations elsewhere. Then check out this list of genuine charities accepting coronavirus donations.
4. Don't believe the face mask hype. You've seen the videos. You've seen the ads. But according to the US Surgeon General, you're wasting your time.
We're not medical experts here at the Scambusters HQ, so we don't give medical advice. However, Surgeon General Jerome S Adams said on Twitter at the end of February: "Seriously people -- stop buying masks! They're not effective in preventing (the) general public from catching coronavirus."
At the same time, panic-buying of masks is creating a supply shortage for the people who really need them -- medics who have to deal with a whole lot of risks in hospitals and operating theaters.
The CDC says more or less the same thing. At best, the organization points out, masks can only help prevent spread of infection from someone who is already sick.
See this report for an analysis of mask effectiveness: You Don't Need a Face Mask for Coronavirus.
If you have a mask and want to wear one, the CDC adds, go ahead. It can't do any harm. But it likely won't do you any good either.
5. Watch out for fake "investment opportunities." Yes, some scammers are already claiming that the spread of the disease gives investors a chance to make easy money by putting their cash into certain dubious companies.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued an investor alert to this effect, warning that fake "research reports" are circulating, making false statements and promoting so-called "penny stocks" or "micro stocks." The crooks want you to buy so they can dump their holdings at a profit.
There's no shortage of reliable news about coronavirus on official sites, like the CDC's. So, look no further if you want to avoid being sucked into this or other pandemic threats.
Alert of the Week
On a related topic, security organizations are warning about spoof phone calls soliciting donations for the upcoming US elections.
Political parties are allowed to make unsolicited calls, so you may not escape them even if you're on the Do Not Call register.
But if you want to contribute, do it directly to the party or individual of your choice. Never give out your credit card details over the phone to someone you don't know who just called you.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.