ST. LOUIS, Mar. 23 – As the United States tries to halt the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), scammers look to make money off the global pandemic.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker has received more than two dozen reports from consumers about surgical mask scams being perpetrated online. Most reported losing money to companies who failed to ship them masks. Reported losses were as high as $350.
“Events like this provide scammers a prime opportunity to take advantage of a panicked public,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “If you are going to purchase items online to keep you and your family safe from the virus, make sure you know with whom you are doing business.”
There have been no reports of losses to mask scams by residents in the St. Louis region. A Georgia resident reported losing $350 after trying to purchase 100 masks online. A web domain registry search for the company showed that the website has only been in operation since Feb. 25, 2020.
“Two days later, they sent an email that they shipped the items. But there was no tracking info,” the person wrote. “It’s been 10 days and no one is answering my emails. I have checked this (website) and they change their products and price every day. The pictures of the masks were totally different from what I bought.”
These sites may also entice consumers with limited-time deals and other incentives in an attempt to draw business. They also may be set up to steal your personal and credit card information, which could lead to identity theft.
Here are tips to avoid COVID-19 scams:
- Be savvy about product claims. While wearing a face mask may seem like an easy way to stop COVID-19 from spreading, medical authorities do not recommend it for the general public. Be sure to evaluate claims of any medical product before buying. Be especially wary of products which offer a “miracle cure” for a range of ailments.
- Only buy from reputable stores and websites. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy items directly from a seller you know and trust.
- Make sure you can make contact. If you are not familiar with a company, take caution with your personal information. Before purchasing, make sure the company is real. If you can’t find a real address or working customer service number, that might be a red flag.
- Keep your guard up. Look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures and other COVID-19-related scams.
For more information, visit BBB’s COVID-19 information site at bbb.org/coronavirus.