On Feb. 16, my column was about how the World Health Organization had just named the new coronavirus COVID-19. At that point, the virus had been known to the world for a little over a month, with 60,000 cases reported worldwide and 1,300 deaths. The first confirmed case in the United States came to light Jan. 20. The victim was a man in his 30s from Snohomish County, Washington, who had just returned from Wuhan, China.
Fast forward to today. As of Friday, the U.S. totals are 85,919 cases reported and 1,297 deaths. These numbers change daily. Ohio totals were 1,137 reported cases with 19 deaths in 60 counties.
Understandably, our way of life has been turned on its head. Our governor, Mike DeWine, has implemented drastic steps to protect the health of Ohio’s citizens.
With the resulting uncertainty and fear, unscrupulous forces are trying to take advantage of the situation. Scammers are heeding the axiom, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.”
In my Feb. 16 column, I talked about how, at that time, malware attacks and bogus email charity appeals were the main problem. Like the spread of coronavirus, we are seeing scams proliferate exponentially, so here’s an update on what fraudsters are doing and how you can protect yourself and your wallet from their byproduct of COVID-19.
1. The bogus email charity appeals and email attacks I mentioned are still a huge problem. Scammers use these methods to obtain your Social Security number, login IDs and passwords and other account numbers or install destructive malware on your computer. Don’t click on any links in suspicious email. Be wary of emails and websites, set up by scammers, using familiar company names as a lure. A real-world example is a scam using a bogus email, supposedly from the World Health Organization, and using WHO’s actual logo.
2. Beware of online sellers claiming to have, in stock, high-demand products such as medical/health, household and cleaning supplies. Check online for sellers’ reputations before buying anything. Search company names, phone numbers and email addresses, adding words such as “complaint,” “scam” or “reviews.” Pay by credit card if you determine the seller to be reputable. If you still have concerns, relay them to us at the Better Business Bureau or to Ohio’s Attorney General online at j.mp/39oUxdT.
3. Scammers continue contacting consumers using illegal robocalls to sell everything from bogus coronavirus treatments to fraudulent pleas for donations. If you receive such a call, simply hang up. Don’t press any numbers. Doing so may expose you to high-pressure tactics of live “operators” or even more robocalls.
4. Finally, do not fall prey to misinformation and rumors about coronavirus products or services a friend or colleague passes along. Even well-meaning people share unverified information, so before buying a product or service mentioned by someone, do some fact-checking. Contact trusted sources of information such as Better Business Bureau or the state Attorney General’s office.
We hear the term “flatten the curve” with respect to the coronavirus all the time. By taking the steps I’ve mentioned in this article, you can lessen exposure to scams and their associated severe consequences.
Call the BBB if you have questions, stay safe and wash your hands.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.