Scammers are already trying to take advantage of uncertainty and fears surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: BBB)

Scammers are already trying to take advantage of uncertainty and fears surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: BBB)

Scammers are already taking advantage of coronavirus confusion

Plus how to protect yourself from cancelled events and changed travel plans

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is affecting people, businesses, and communities around the world. While this is bad news for Canadians, it is great news for scammers, who are now actively cashing in on our anxiety.Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds everyone to remain vigilant to avoid scams related to the virus, use necessary precautions when traveling, and find reliable sources to stay informed about what to do as the virus spreads. Look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other coronavirus cons.

Potential Scams

1. Fraudulent Health Products: Scammers are sending messages or creating websites with information about amazing products, including convincing testimonials or a conspiracy theory backstory. Currently, there are no approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, although treatments are in development. Con artists are also impersonating the World Health Organization in phishing emails. These messages claim to have news about the disease and prompt readers to download malicious software.

Be wary of personal testimonials and “miracle” product claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to immediately cure a wide range of diseases. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases. Also, testimonials are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.

2. Fake Charities: Scam emails try to con people into donating to fake fundraising efforts, claiming to be a government program to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors consider experienced relief organizations. New charities may have the best of intentions, but may face great challenges in fulfilling promises in another country. Also, see if the charity has existing connections to be able to deliver aid to impacted areas and ensure they clearly describe the intended use of funds.

3. Face Mask Con: As the coronavirus outbreak worsens, has received numerous reports about scam websites claiming to sell face masks online. As you strive to keep yourself and loved ones healthy, be sure to watch out for phony e-commerce sites and other scams. Unfortunately, phony online stores abound, especially when an item is in high demand.

When looking for face masks, be savvy about product claims. While wearing a face mask may seem like an easy way to stop the coronavirus from spreading, the Centers for Disease Control does not actually recommend it for the general public.

Only buy from reputable stores and websites. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy them directly from a seller you know and trust. Be sure the online store has working contact information, and before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company is legitimate. Look for a real street address, a working customer service number, and a positive BBB Business Profile.

Other considerations

1) What to do if an event is cancelled

Review the cancellation policy. Visit the venue’s website or contact the business. Given the uncertainty of this situation, each vendor or host is more than likely to have their own policy in handling refunds and exchanges, or may offer a rescheduling option.

Check your credit card company. If you had purchased tickets or made a reservation using a credit card and are being denied a refund from the vendor, contact the credit card company to dispute the charges.

Check with the distributor of the tickets. For tickets or reservations that are purchased online, many refunds, according to the venue’s policy, will be automatically processed to the same card that was used for purchase. Check with the distributor to learn more.

Review any ticket insurance purchased. If you purchased ticket insurance, review the fine print to see what is and is not covered. Understand that the policy may not cover things such as a pandemic, and that may be outlined within the policy. The same advice would also apply for travel insurance.

Contact the vendor. Issues with items such as airline tickets should be dealt with through the vendor where you made the original purchase. For example, if the ticket was purchased through Expedia, review and follow the cancellation policy on their website.

Have patience. As this pandemic unfolds, it is difficult to tell how long it will continue and what the impact is going to be on everyone from event planners and vendors to businesses and consumers. If it is difficult to get through to customer service for a business or vendor, understand there are probably other people in the same situation as you.

2) Making or changing travel plans for coronavirus

Check with airlines and cruise operators about previously planned trips. As the number of coronavirus cases rise, travel to and from some destinations may be restricted. Even if your destination is not on that list, you may still be hesitant to make the trip. In either case, check directly with the company you made travel arrangements with. Although you may not get a full refund for your trip, many travel companies are willing to waive re-booking fees and change trip dates.

Consider your risk. Research has shown that those most at risk for being severely affected by the virus are people over 65, people with a compromised immune system, or those with underlying health conditions. If you are in the higher risk group, you may want to cancel your travel plans, even if this means losing out on money you have already spent.

Research the cancellation policies for various travel companies before you buy. If you were hoping to travel somewhere later this year, be sure to find out what kind of cancellation policy is available for the tickets you would like to purchase. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, cruise companies and airline cancellation policies are changing rapidly. Make sure you understand whether or not you can cancel and get your money back if the pandemic continues long-term.

Consider buying travel insurance, but read the fine print. Travel insurance is a great way to receive a full refund if you need to cancel a trip, but not all policies have the same coverage. Read the fine print of any plan you are considering before you buy. Most policies will not cover a cancellation simply because you are now afraid to go. Purchasing a policy that allows you to “cancel for any reason” is the best way to ensure coverage in this rapidly evolving situation.

Think twice before buying a bargain ticket. As the coronavirus restricts travel for many, flight and cruise deals are popping up everywhere.

If you want to take advantage of these deals, keep in mind that, realistically, any destination could become compromised as the virus continues to spread, and you may need to cancel or reschedule your travel plans. This could result in you paying additional fees, causing your trip to become less of a bargain.

Watch out for scams. Scammers are never below taking advantage of a crisis, and with so much uncertainty around travel, this situation presents them with a great opportunity. Also, remember that travel scams were the riskiest scams across Canada for 2019, with victims losing up to $5,000 per instance. Make sure that the deals you consider are legitimate before paying or offering up your personal information.

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