The novel coronavirus has altered life as we know it. The pandemic has reached virtually every corner of the world and has exposed deficiencies and weaknesses in the area of consumer protection. The most vulnerable among us are at particular risk not just health-wise, but also financially. In response to this crisis, a focus on the protection and education within the consumer marketplace is vital to make sure that you do not fall prey to misinformation and fraud. Let’s take a look at some of the common ways that consumers have been targeted and some ways that you can protect yourself during these historic and troubling times.
Online Scams And Fraudulent Practices
Due to the restrictions on retailers that various governments have imposed in response to the pandemic, many consumers have shifted their purchasing platforms to online retailers. It comes as no surprise then that online scams and fraudulent activities are on the rise. In the United States, more than 22,000 consumer complaints about coronavirus-related fraud have been reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between January 2020 and April 2020, amounting to over $22,000,000 in consumer losses.
From data breaches to fake charity scams, criminals are inventing a variety of online methods to deceive and take advantage of consumers during this unique time. Seizing upon consumer fear and anxiety, scammers have also propagated deceptive and scientifically unsupported claims that certain products can prevent or treat COVID-19. Not surprisingly, this type of misinformation surrounding the virus has been especially prevalent in the elderly community. Notably, a devious consumer marketplace tactic is price gouging. The artificial price raising of legitimate coronavirus-related products has been an issue that governments have been scrambling to limit. By holding retailers responsible for taking advantage of honest consumers during their time of need, governments across the globe are hoping to stem the tide by making common household goods available at reasonable prices.
It is essential that when you receive any information online, that you cross check it against trusted government or governmental agency websites to confirm the accuracy of that information. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are two of several available resources to verify any claims that you may have read online pertaining to treatment or the risk of infection. Your local state and county websites may also have information specific to your government’s handling and treatment of the spread of the virus.
Similarly, if you have been contacted by someone who you do not know regarding receiving or donating money, the chances of it being a legitimate offer are slim. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any offer that requires you to spend your own money in order to receive funds at a future date is likely a scam. Of particular note are offers to double or triple your stimulus check if you hand it over to a third party before you receive it. These offers are most likely fraudulent scams done by criminals located outside of the United States, making it very difficult to retrieve your money. If you believe that you have been the target of fraudulent activity or price gouging, do not hesitate to contact law enforcement or an attorney specializing in consumer protection.