People have been urged to be extra vigilant when it comes to online scams. There have been various reports of an increase in websites targeting consumers during the Covid-19 crisis.
Some websites are claiming to offer ‘cures’ for Covid-19 and attempting to scam consumers.
With online shopping on the rise some traders are taking advantage of the anxiety many people may have right now to sell fake cures or products that allegedly prevent infection at very high prices, according to Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune.
False claims can be about anything from masks and caps to drugs and hand sanitiser and labelled as the only cure for coronavirus or the only protection against the coronavirus and sold at many times their actual worth.
Traders also use other tricks, such as falsely claiming that the products are scarce to push consumers into buying.
Another form of scam which is increasing is messages claiming to be from courier companies looking for account details from people.
Consumers are being sent SMS messages or emails that look like they came from a legitimate courier company saying they had a package to deliver or had tried unsuccessfully to do so.
The scammer may demand payment, either to clear ‘outstanding charges’ before delivery, or to secure another appointment for delivery, and include a fake link inside the message.
Protecting consumers online
Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune said: “We are hearing of increased activity when it comes to online scams and it is so important for consumers to be vigilant. Messages and emails can look really genuine and people need to be very careful before giving out any account details.
“We are hearing reports of trading selling fake goods online and taking advantage of people’s anxiety at this time. Another scam we are hearing about is courier companies pretending to text delivering a parcel and looking for account details.
“The advice is to never give out your account details unless you are absolutely certain it is to a trusted source.
“The European Parliament is committed to protecting Europeans when they are online. We are working closely with the European Commission and consumer protection authorities to tackle this.
“Recently they issued a common position on the most reported scams and unfair practices to help online platforms better identify such illegal practices, take them down and prevent the reappearance of similar ones.
“Certain practices are prohibited in the EU, thanks to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, including deceiving consumers about the benefits or results expected from a product, claiming it can cure an illness or saying that it is available for a limited time only.
“Any claim made by a trader that their product can cure an illness needs to be backed up by evidence. Platform operators active in the EU who become aware of illegal activity taking place on their websites are obliged to intervene.”
What to look out for
There are some giveaways that you can look out for. If you see any of the claims listed, be on your guard:
- Explicit or implicit claims that a product can prevent or cure Covid-19;
- The use of unofficial sources, such as self-declared doctors to back up claims;
- The use of names or logo of government authorities, official experts or international;
- institutions that have allegedly endorsed them, but with no hyperlinks or references to official documents;
- Claims that the product is: “only available today”, “sells out fast”, etc.;
- Sweeping claims such as: “lowest price on the market”, “only product that can cure Covid-19 infection” etc;
- Exorbitant prices due to the alleged healing powers of the products.
If you come across unsupported or misleading claims on an online platform, use the platform operators’ reporting tool to inform them of that fact.
Be aware that sometimes they can be innocently shared by a friend or family member who has been fooled and thinks they are helping you.
Always look at reliable sources for information about the coronavirus: national governments, health authorities or international organisations such as the World Health Organization.