COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has hit the greater Houston area and the United States. While this is bad news for most of us, unfortunately, it’s great news for scammers, who are cashing in on our anxiety about the disease. Look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures, phishing emails, charity scams, and other coronavirus cons.
The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas urges consumers and donors to be aware of common scams during this time and offers the following information:
- 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. Don’t fall victim to clickbait or sensationalized information on social media. Always double check information you see online with official news sources. Visit BBB.org/Coronavirus for the latest information and check BBBHouston.org for reports on businesses before you buy. For instance, BBB has seen reports of people buying items like face masks from certain sites and then never receiving them.
- Be wary of personal testimonials and “miracle” product claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to immediately cure a wide range of diseases or to offer a vaccine for the virus. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases, and a vaccine is not ready yet. Also, testimonials are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence. Remember, just because something is “all natural” does not mean it's good for you. “All natural” does not mean the same thing as safe.
- Beware of price gouging. Price gouging is a term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. The best way to avoid price gouging is to plan ahead and have the necessary supplies you need on hand.
- Watch for government agency imposter emails and robocalls. More people are working online from home now, so be aware of phishing scams. Look out for unsolicited emails claiming to be the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). If you’re not already subscribed to receive emails from them, you won’t get one out of nowhere. Scam robocalls may increase, claiming to be from a government agency. Don’t give out your personal information, and hang up the phone on scammers.
- Be cautious about unsolicited offers of government assistance. Scammers wasted no time in taking advantage concerning news of a federal stimulus package. BBB is already getting reports about government imposters calling or sending social media messages about the stimulus checks. Watch out for these phony government grants that ask for personal and banking information. Remember, government agencies do not communicate through social media avenues, and you should not pay any money for "free" government aid.
- Do your homework when considering making donations, whether to a charity or crowdfunding campaign. Don’t donate to any organization claiming to help those sick from the coronavirus, unless you have done your research. Check out a charity at BBBHouston.org or Give.org. Potential crowdfunding donors should proceed with caution and do research before making a donation to any individual or cause.
- Watch out for scam “investment opportunities”. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about online promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded “companies” can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus.
To help warn others, report these issues to the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas by filing a formal complaint at BBBHouston.org or a scam report at BBBHouston.org/Scamtracker.