Ebola is making headlines around the world, and as usual with any type of crisis, unscrupulous crooks are jumping on the chance to make a profit with scams. They aren’t just after your money either – some scammers are stealing your personal information.
U.S. News reports that a fundraising page was set up by friends of Ebola victim Nina Pham on the crowd funding site, GoFundMe. Their attempt to assist Pham and her family raised nearly $70,000 in two days, proving that the number of strangers sympathetic to Pham’s plight and willing to help financially was overwhelming – and that is what scammers count on.
“People feel an emotional connection to [Ebola patients] and want to do anything they can to help, and this is exactly what they’re taking advantage of,” Tom Bartholomy of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said.
Because of this, the BBB issued a warning last week, advising consumers to be cautious when donating money to any type of “charity” or crowdfunding site claiming to assist Ebola victims or those out of work due to quarantines imposed after exposure to the virus.
The consumer organization cited another fundraising page set up on GoFundMe for Amber Joy Vinson – the second nurse diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas – that was possibly a scam. Although it may have been set up by a well-intentioned person, Vinson’s family had no knowledge of who it was, and they did not authorize the page.
That page has since been shut down, but there are still more than 100 GoFundMe pages raising money for various Ebola causes – many of which are likely scams.
Emails and phone calls soliciting money for fraudulent charities or from scammers claiming to represent legitimate charities are also common, and these types of scams often target the elderly.
Unfortunately, scammers not only prey on our sympathy, but also our fears.
The FDA is also warning consumers about scams involving treatments, solutions, or preventions for Ebola. According to USA Today, at least three companies selling such products have been cited by the FDA in the past month.
All but one of the companies have removed their products or stopped claiming they treat Ebola. The one that hasn’t, Natural Solutions Foundation of New Jersey, claims that their product “will inactivate the Ebola virus effectively” and that the federal government is ignoring their research.
Steve Mister, president and chief executive officer for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, fears that there will be more and more companies playing on Ebola fears by pushing natural “treatments.”
“Whenever there is some kind of a public health scare, there is some enterprising company that says, ‘Oh, I’ll create a product and I’ll say that it treats that health concern.’ And they will sometimes choose to call it a dietary supplement because they think that will evade the attention of the regulators.”
Not all scammers are as straightforward, though. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team warns of another scam targeting Ebola fears that is possibly more hazardous than donating a few dollars to a fake charity or buying a natural supplement.
The cyberscam, called phishing, tries to get people to click on an enticing link promising information that many internet users might like to see, such as this one reported by The Inquisitr that promised nude photos of actress Emma Watson. Ebola scammers promise information about cures or use scary headlines about the virus to get users to click on their links.
Once the software is downloaded, scammers can collect personal information that is used to commit identity theft or access bank accounts.
Tripwire security researcher Ken Westin says that cyber criminals often use current events to get people to unknowingly download malicious files.
“Fear is a powerful emotion and one often leveraged by savvy cyber criminals, as fear and other strong emotions clouds people’s judgment and increases the likelihood of a successful phishing attack.”
As Ebola fears increase, so do the scams. Government agencies are advising people to exercise caution in all areas by confirming that all charities are legitimate before donating money, and ensuring that all online links lead to trusted sources.
As far as prevention or a cure, remember that there are no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines to treat or prevent Ebola. Even if there were, they would not be sold online to the general public.
Finally, consumers should ask their doctors about any natural prevention or cure claims – some of them could do more harm than good.
[Image via AZCentral]