"Buy This New Treatment Now Before It Expires!"
"You don't need to see a doctor, our treatments cure you of the virus."
"Your stimulus check is waiting. Click here to learn how to access your funds. "
If you've seen something similar to these lines while surfing the internet, you are not alone. Thousands of social media posts have been distributed with the sole aim of separating you from your money and then disappearing before you find out what happened.
Social media shapes our thinking and seeing the world around us. We read comments from friends and strangers and agree or disagree. We can respond to posts or move on. Some of what we read we believe, other things, maybe not so much.
Various social media companies show us what they think they are reading based on algorithms and rule sets. That can be good and bad. Good thing our social media feeds may not be flooded with topics we aren't interested in, but bad that we can see posts or articles that we might be interested in but that are misleading, inaccurate, or even dangerous .
Researchers looked for fraud
Researchers at the University of California at San Diego searched Twitter and Instagram posts for scams and fraudulent messages from March to May this year, and published their findings in the Journal of Medical Internet Research for Public Health and Surveillance. The researchers found many spots for unproven cures (the first wave) and fake test kits (the second wave), among other things. "(W) We identified nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings likely to be related to counterfeit COVID-19 health products, financial fraud, and other consumer risks," said Timothy Mackey, PhD, associate professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, in a press dismissal from the university. Now the researchers say a third wave of fraudulent items has begun marketing counterfeit pharmaceutical treatments.
The first fraudulent postings appeared in March. Many of them tried to sell pre-made herbal or non-traditional remedies. These posts were followed by those instructing people on how to make their own preparations to boost immunity. There were also posts encouraging the purchase of:
- Colloidal Silver
- Wearable devices claiming to handle the virus
- Unproven medical treatments like hydroxychloroquine
Disease-related fraud isn't new and older than the internet. But the internet has made it easier for scammers to spread and reach more people. The Federal Trade Commission has a page about coronavirus scams. On this page, readers can learn more about fake contact tracing, home vaccination offers and test kits, and appeals for donations. Issues related to fraudulent phone calls, texts, or emails regarding government checks are also discussed.
If you want to see how your own area is doing, there is a page for that too. Just click on the interactive map to see how fraud is affecting your state.
"As of January 1, people in the US have submitted 91,808 COVID-19-related reports to the FTC," the website said. “Most of these reports relate to online shopping, with travel and vacation second. The online shopping reports are mostly about people ordering products that never arrive, while most of the travel and vacation reports are about refunds and cancellations. So far, people have reported losing $ 59.27 million on these and other COVID-related fraud reports. "
Be safe online
So how can you keep yourself from falling for a scam, especially those that seem so real?
Dr. Mackey gave three key tips in the press release to help identify a fraudulent post or fraud:
- If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Look for mentions of bulk or quick sales, cheap prices, and questionable claims like FDA approval or specific certifications.
- Importing products from another country. If you are a US consumer, it is likely illegal to import products such as COVID-19 testing from another country. Such purchases should be viewed as risky.
- Improper contact methods. If the seller conducts business or transactions through social media direct messages or any other non-traditional communication application, including Skype or WhatsApp, it is likely not legitimate.
And what do you do when you are a victim of fraud? The United States Department of Justice takes these scams seriously. According to the website:
- Keep an eye out for antibody testing fraud tests. Never give your personal or health information to anyone but known and trusted medical professionals. Learn more about what to avoid.
- Be wary of unsolicited healthcare scams that involve testing and treatment via email, phone call, or in person. In the United States, medical professionals and scientists are working hard to find a cure, an approved treatment, and a vaccine for COVID-19. Learn more about what to avoid
- Be wary of unsolicited phone calls and emails from people who claim to be IRS and Treasury officials. Remember, the IRS is the first form of communication by mail – not by phone. Learn more about fraudulent systems related to IRS
You will be asked to report all COVID-19 fraud attempts, even if you weren't taken for it. You can call the National Justice Department's Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or submit your experience using the NCDF web complaint form.