British Columbia

Beware of coronavirus cons warns Better Business Bureau

COVID-19 anxiety is real, but it's also a real opportunity for fraudsters looking to exploit that angst for a quick buck.

Scammers have been trying to cash in on people's fears since COVID-19 first hit the news

The Better Business Bureau is warning people to be on the lookout for scammers trying to cash in on COVID-19 anxiety. (BBB)

COVID-19 anxiety is real for many people, but it's also a real opportunity for scammers looking to exploit that angst for ill-gotten profit.

That's why the Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C. is reminding everyone to be on the lookout for coronavirus cons.

Karla Laird of the BBB said there's been a rapid uptick in the number of scams reported in Canada and across North America since coronavirus became news in January.

First came the phony e-commerce sites purporting to sell face masks and other in-demand products.

Red flags

Laird says the best way to avoid fake retailers is to be aware of the red flags.   

"Look for contact information for the retailer so you know prior to giving up your name, address and your credit card information ... the company is legitimate. Look for a real street address — not post office box but a physical location that you search on Google," she said.

"You also want a working customer service number, a [phone] number that when you call you get through to someone live who speaks to you about the process to make a payment or details of the product that you're interested in."

Miracle cures and conspiracy theories

Scammers are also online pedalling miracle cures that often using convincing testimonials or a conspiracy theory backstory to push people to purchase.

"The fact is there is no vaccine or drug right now for coronavirus," said Laird. "Why people are falling victim to this particular scam is because of misinformation or because they're not aware of the actual facts."

The BBB says scammers are also posting fake charities and phishing for money under the guise of being a government organization researching a COVID-19 cure.

The advice for people who want to donate money is to consider supporting established relief organizations rather than new charities that can often have startup challenges that prevent them from delivering the aid they promise.

Check your travel insurance

In light of all the COVID-19 related travel disruptions, Laird advises that people be extra careful about the travel insurance they buy.

"Read the fine print as it relates to travel insurance because in most cases they do not actually cover pandemics," she said. " So what you're trying to look for is a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason." 

Finally, Laird said given the unprecedented and changing COVID-19 situation, now is a good time for consumers and businesses alike to exercise patience.

"You know it's a difficult time for everyone," she said. "Where possible try to be patient and ... know it's going to take a little while for things to settle down."

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