This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and Commissioner Nikki Fried joined the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to warn consumers of fraudulent schemes taking advantage of fears surrounding novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
“We have zero tolerance for sham charities and scams attempting to take advantage of Floridians – especially with public concern over coronavirus at high levels,” said Fried. “As the state agency responsible for regulating charities, and as Florida’s consumer clearinghouse, we’re here to ensure your charitable donations go towards their intended purpose – not into the pockets of scammers.”
Tactics used by scammers include misleading emails and posts promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your neighborhoods. Many are setting up websites to sell phony products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take money and acquire personal information. They also may be asking you to donate to charities that benefit victims of the virus, offering advice on unproven treatments, or containing malicious email attachments.
What should consumers do?
Consumers can call the department’s Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-FL-AYUDA en Español), or use the online Check-A-Charity tool to learn if a charity is properly registered and if your money is actually going to benefit victims of coronavirus. To file a complaint about a charity, use the Division of Consumer Services online form or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-FL-AYUDA en Español). Consumers can also report concerns to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
Commissioner Fried, FDACS, and the FTC also offering the following tips to avoid these scams:
Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know – they could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date.
Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ignore online offers for vaccinations. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment, or cure claims for coronavirus, ask yourself: if there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you first hear about it through an advertisement or sales pitch?
Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
Be alert to “investment opportunities.” The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about online promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result.
The Federal Trade Commission also has helpful consumer information on how to donate wisely and avoid charity scams.