(HealthDay) – Counterfeit health products and financial fraud were abundant on social media during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study.
According to researchers who analyzed posts on Twitter and Instagram, thousands of posts have advertised illegal or unapproved test kits, untested treatments, and alleged but fake cures.
"From March to May 2020, we identified nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings likely related to counterfeit COVID-19 health products, financial fraud, and other consumer risks," said lead author Timothy Mackey, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
There have been two waves of unproven cure and fake test kit posts, and a third wave is now appearing. Markey predicted it will worsen if officials announce an effective vaccine or treatment.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research for Public Health and Surveillance.
"We are in a post-digital age, and as this boom in digital adoption continues, we will see more of these fraudulent postings targeted at consumers as criminals seek to take advantage of those in need during times of crisis," Mackey said in a UCSD press release .
He gave tips on how to identify fraudulent products or scams:
- If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of bulk or quick sales, cheap prices, and questionable claims like US Food and Drug Administration approval or specific certifications.
- It is likely illegal to import products such as COVID-19 tests from abroad. Such purchases should be viewed as risky.
- If the seller does business or transactions through social media direct messaging or any communication app – including Skype or WhatsApp – it is likely not legitimate.
"We recommend anyone contracting COVID-19 or hoping to get tested first to work with their personal health care provider or local health authority to ensure safe access to testing or treatment and to report suspicious activity to federal authorities," said Mackey.
"We hope that the results of this study will better educate social media users so they can better distinguish between fraudulent and legitimate posts," he added. "We conducted this research with the aim that it will ultimately lead to improved tools and policy changes to enable social media to be used as a driving force."
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Watch out for coronavirus scam on social media (2020-09-07).
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