Consumer advocates warn of scammers taking advantage of coronavirus fears

As more cases of the novel coronavirus are confirmed across the U.S., consumer advocates are warning of something spreading with it: Scammers ready to take advantage of the public's anxiety.

"Scams rely on having a convincing story and public health scares are usually a very effective theme for con artists because they can take advantage of people's fear and anxiety," said Chuck Bell with Consumer Reports.

One scam folks should look out for involves anyone claiming to have a so-called "miracle cure" for the disease and other products claiming to be effective treatments.

"We're going to find people who advertise miracle cures or have some prevention that the government won't tell you about," said the Better Business Bureau's Andrew Goode.

Scammers are also taking advantage of the high demand for face masks, which the Centers for Disease Control has repeatedly said are not necessary for healthy people and should be saved for medical professionals.

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Anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak is leading to price-gouging and a shortage in products such as hand sanitizer and cleaning solutions.


Online price-gouging is also a concern. While officials tally up the number of affected individuals here in the U.S., people in the United Kingdom have already lost more than $1 million to scams. One person paid almost $20,000 for masks that never arrived.

Up until Amazon cracked down on price gouging by third party sellers, bottles of Purell were selling for as high as $122.

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Scams can also present themselves in the form of an email. The World Health Organizations says a phishing email has already emerged in which victims are asked for sensitive information or to click on a link that could install malware on computers.

"If there's going to be a major breakthrough or a vaccine, we're going to be hearing about it from the White House, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," said Bell. "We wouldn't be hearing about it for the first time from some business person on the internet."
Health officials say they will never ask for direct donations to emergency response plans via email, separate websites, calls or texts.

Additionally, there's no cure for the new coronavirus yet, so anyone claiming to have vaccinations or other treatments for the virus should be ignored.

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