Consumers need to be skeptical of emails and websites promoting coronavirus prevention products and tips, according to Better Business Bureau (BBB) of St. Louis.
“Scammers know that by using a hook from the day’s top headlines, they’ll be able to catch lots of fish,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “Right now, issues associated with coronavirus and a potential pandemic are of global interest, and that means scammers have a very large pond to go phishing in.”
Phishing emails are unsolicited messages that request personal information or money from the intended victim. They often are a precursor to identity theft.
Media reports on the outbreak of coronavirus (2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV) in the Wuhan region of China already have prompted a social media scam targeting Chinese-Australian citizens in Wuhan with a phony online evacuation form, according to a report by Australia’s ABC news outlet.
During the 2009 swine flu epidemic, McAfee Avert Labs, an online security company, reported that messages promoting virus treatment and prevention, or otherwise sensationalizing the outbreak, accounted for 2 percent of all spam sent in the days following the first media reports of the outbreak. And various websites promoted “survival guides,” masks, prevention tips and treatments, most of them of little value in fighting flu.
Free information on the virus, the outbreak, and preventive measures is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
BBB offers the following advice to avoid coronavirus-related scams:
- Avoid opening e-mail from an unknown source. Do not click on links in the body of the e-mail or open any attachments. Instead, delete the e-mail. If you suspect that it is a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.
- Disregard online offers for vaccinations against coronavirus because a vaccine does not exist. For more information on the virus and updates on progress in fighting the outbreak, go to the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.
- Make sure the antivirus and anti-malware programs on your computer are up to date and all operating system security patches have been installed. If your computer becomes infected as the result of a spam e-mail about coronavirus, you can report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam, help others avoid the same by reporting your experience at BBB.org/ScamTracker.