By Randy Hutchinson Updated: March 26, 2020 1:05 PM CT | Published: March 26, 2020
They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Unfortunately, you can also count on crooks exploiting the headlines to steal your money and personal information. And the coronavirus outbreak is dominating the headlines.
In its first coronavirus-related fraud case, the Department of Justice shut down the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” that offered consumers a World Health Organization vaccine kit for a $4.95 shipping charge payable by credit card. There are currently no legitimate vaccines.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to seven companies making unsupported claims their products could treat or prevent coronavirus. The products included essential oils, teas, tinctures, lozenges and colloidal silver. Bogus claims included: “So it’s widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses.”
One letter went to disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, who promoted a silver-based cure on his TV show. The Missouri Attorney General is suing him.
The BBB has identified at least eight newly registered websites selling face masks and other products that appear to be fraudulent. A convenience store operator in New Jersey was arrested for selling her own concoction of a sanitizer spray that severely burned four boys.
The FTC issued a warning that scammers would likely try to take advantage of whatever stimulus program is finally passed. Shortly thereafter, we saw a text message that advised recipients to click on a link to apply for their $1,000 stimulus payment.
We’re receiving reports to our Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker service about phony government grant offers coming through social media or by phone. One woman got a Facebook message from a “friend” encouraging her to apply for a grant designed to help seniors deal with the crisis. She called the number, was told she qualified for a $150,000 grant, and would receive the money as soon as she paid a $1,500 fee using a prepaid gift card. The only thing that saved her was that she couldn’t drive to the store to buy the gift card and didn’t have enough money for the crooks to draft from her bank account.
Phishing emails purportedly containing important information from authoritative sources could download malware. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued an alert about fraudulent coronavirus-related investment opportunities.
The BBB offers this advice to avoid becoming the victim of a coronavirus scam:
Be skeptical of miracle cures. Consult your doctor before using any product. Check out sellers with the BBB and look for reviews on Google.
Don’t click on links or attachments in email or social media messages unless you’re absolutely sure they’re legitimate. Don’t assume they are because they appear to come from a friend.
Remember, you won’t have to pay a fee or provide confidential information to get a government grant or stimulus payment.
Thoroughly research any investment opportunity.
These are the scams we’ve heard about so far. There will be others.