It is a sad commentary on human nature, but when natural disasters or man-made crises occur, people attempt to take advantage of the situation, and commit fraud. The government is now warning citizens about possible fraud related to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jointly issued warning letters to seven purveyors of various unapproved products that claimed to treat Coronavirus. The FDA stated, “there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.” The FDA threatened enforcement actions against companies that continue to market products based on scientifically unsupported or deceptive claims. As treatments for COVID-19 are hopefully developed, the opportunity for scammers to mislead consumers will increase. Consumers should only purchase products used to treat COVID-19 symptoms from reliable, established medical organizations.
Other instances of COVID-19 fraud include cyber-criminals who created a map purporting to be from Johns Hopkins University used to track Coronavirus cases. Anyone who clicked on the map, however, infected their computer with malware. In addition, emails appearing to come from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) offered unsuspecting recipients an “updated list of new cases around your city,” but in reality, it was used to obtain their email addresses and passwords. Individuals should navigate to the website of the government agency they are seeking information from directly or through a reputable search engine, and never click on links in emails from unknown sources.
During previous crises, scammers have set up fake charities related to the crisis to elicit donations from innocent victims. High-pressure or time-sensitive donation requests, along with gift card or wired money requirements are red flags of possible fake charities. Also, charities with similar-sounding names to established charities and “thank you” letters for donations that you never gave are other ways victims may be deceived into making a donation. If you do not have prior personal experience with the charity in question, the FTC recommends researching the organization through available online databases, including Better Business Bureau or GuideStar.
Schneider Downs is committed to helping our clients navigate the uncertainty their businesses face due to Coronavirus. If you need the experience of Schneider Downs Business Advisors during this challenging time, please contact shareholders Tom Pratt at [email protected] or Joel Rosenthal at [email protected].
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