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Crooks will try to cash in on coronavirus fears, feds warn

FTC offers tips to protect yourself scammers

Coronavirus is spreading and criminals are looking to take advantage of people's concern.
Coronavirus is spreading and criminals are looking to take advantage of people's concern.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The new coronavirus has infected more than 40,000 people globally and killed over 900.

Now, the U.S. government is concerned about scammers who want to take advantage of fears surrounding the virus. The Federal Trade Commission on Monday warned that scammers will be creating websites to sell phony products and using fake emails, texts and social media posts as a ploy to get your money and personal information. According to the FTC, the emails and posts may contain fake information about cases in your neighborhood or they may ask you to donate to patients.

FTC Consumer Education Specialist Colleen Tressler said the warning was sent out so that consumers can be prepared.

“We know that this is going to happen,” Tressler told News4Jax by phone. "This is based on our experience over the years that whenever we see something like this, we tend to be proactive in getting information out. We have done this since 2003 with the SARS scare. We did it in 2014 with Ebola, and we did it in 2016 with the Zika virus.

Here are some tips to protect yourself:

  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. It 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. A video posted on YouTube by the FTC shows how scammers use computers and cellphones to send out links to trick people into downloading malware.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment or cure claims for the coronavirus, ask yourself: If there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you be hearing about it for the first time through an ad 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 the coronavirus and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result.

If you receive any suspicious emails, phone calls or text messages about the coronavirus, report them to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

As of Monday, according to the Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody, there have been no local coronavirus scams.

About the Authors:

16-year veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4Jax in March 2016.