With the continuing spread of the COVID-19 in Northern Colorado and Wyoming, most people in the area are now in some version of isolation, whether that be true isolation due to having the disease, quarantine due to contact with someone that has the disease, or practicing social distancing by remaining at home and avoiding all unnecessary errands and travel.
This creates one of the best environments for something else to spread: scams and frauds. People have additional time on their hands, fewer places to go, and may have health or financial concerns. While any big news story can give an opportunity to scammers, one with this much nationwide impact is especially useful to both criminals and unscrupulous businesses. Here is more about some of the scams BBB has seen reported and that we expect to see come up in the weeks ahead.
Face Mask Scams
As major online and brick-and-mortar retailers run out of medical and sanitation supplies like face masks, hand sanitizer, and even toilet paper, consumers may turn to less reputable outlets for these items. Normally online shopping scams include a deal that’s too good to be true, but in this case, simply having the item listed in stock may be enough for consumers to put their misgivings about using an unfamiliar website aside. But in the case of these scams, the items will never arrive and your credit card or personal information may be stolen to use in other identity theft crimes.
What You Can Do: Public health experts urge individuals not to buy masks, gloves, or other supplies used in healthcare unless necessary to allow those items to be used by medical professionals on the front lines. Supplies like toilet paper are still being produced and the distribution system is up and running. You can also find alternatives, like making your own hand sanitizer (make sure the final product is at least 60% alcohol per CDC recommendations). If you do decide to use an unfamiliar retailer, make sure to research the business first and watch for signs of an online purchase scam like little or no contact information or accepting odd forms of payment like Apple gift cards.
Many people nervous about catching the COVID-19 are turning toward cures, especially those advertised online. Some of these are businesses making unsubstantiated claims that their products can cure or prevent the disease. Others are outright scams claiming that a treatment, cure, or vaccine exists, but cannot be promoted for “security” or some other conspiratorial reason.
What You Can Do: Currently there are no available treatments, cures, or vaccines approved for use against COVID-19. While research is ramping up quickly, any drug will still need to go through rounds of testing and approvals, and will likely initially only be available to vulnerable populations and healthcare or other essential workers. The best steps to prevent the disease remains washing your hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and practicing social distancing.
As with any disaster, there are likely to be fraudulent charities that spring up promising to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. Their appeals could include funding research, helping with medical bills, providing assistance to quarantined or at-risk individuals, or helping ease the economic consequences of the measures taken to slow the spread of the COVID-19.
What You Can Do: Even with the most honest intentions, new nonprofits often struggle more to deliver services than established organizations. With impacts as large as expected from COVID-19, there will be few organizations that won’t need additional support. Do your research before donating, and consider choosing one of BBB’s Accredited Charities that have passed our rigorous Charity Review process and meet the 20 Standards of Charity Accountability.
Fraudulent Government Checks
At the current moment, there appears to be bipartisan support in the federal government for economic stimulus in the form of cash paid directly to individuals. With any large scale government grant program, scammers will always try to set themselves up as middleman, claiming you either need to go through them or that they can expedite the process, for a fee. You may also be hit with ads or fake websites where you can claim your money but must first pay fees or taxes or provide personal information like a Social Security Number.
What You Can Do: Most importantly, remember that this is currently an idea, and has not been passed by Congress or implemented by the executive branch yet. Even the most optimistic projections say it will take a few weeks before people start receiving any money. The government will not require you to pay a fee or taxes before you receive any grant, and you will not be called or emailed to provide your Social Security Number. Anyone who does otherwise is probably a scammer.
For more information on scams and frauds related to COVID-19 as well as other tips for consumers and businesses, visit BBB.org/COVID-19. If you encounter a scam, BBB advises you to report it to bbb.org/scamtracker.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2018, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Profiles on nearly 5.4 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming, which was founded in 1983 and serves 38 counties in Colorado and Wyoming.
Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming
8020 S. County Road 5, Ste. 100
Fort Collins, CO 80528