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How to Avoid Online Scams and Fake Health Products

A man typing his credit card information into a website on a laptop.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Fraudsters are always looking for vulnerable people to exploit, and a pandemic creates a perfect storm that makes people even more likely to fall prey to their scams. These tips will help you avoid their tricks and stay safe. 

Whether it’s due to flu season or a scary new virus, most people occasionally search for the best ways to avoid falling ill. That’s exactly why scammers claim so many victims. They feed off of your fear. They spread false information and advertise cure-all solutions to attract customers, steal their money, and then leave them empty-handed.

It’s shameful, to say the least.

These simple tips will help you identify possible scams and save you some time, trouble, and possible, a whole lot of money. 

Be Wary of Phishing Scams

Getting spam in your inbox is inevitable. While some emails are filtered into the spam folder automatically, others can end up at the top of your “to read” list and trick you into opening them.

Fraudsters are smart and know how to play their cards right. To gain your trust, they sometimes assume a false official identity, like an employee from your bank or a major corporation, or an agent from an international organization.

They’ll even go as far as using logos, email addresses, and websites that resemble those of existing businesses to make it more difficult to spot that it’s a scam. 

To spot a phishing email, here are a few things you should look out for:

  • Generic greetings: An official email to you would most likely include both your first and last name. Greetings like “Hello, Sir/Madam,” or just a simple “Hi” or “Hello” from someone you don’t know should be an immediate red flag. 
  • Spelling errors: We all make typing mistakes sometimes. However, important emails from legitimate businesses are often subjected to multiple rounds of proofreading before they reach your inbox. Whether it’s questionable punctuation or very obvious spelling errors, any mistakes should raise your suspicions.
  • A sense of urgency: Scammers know if you inform someone of the possible negative consequences of inaction, many people will do whatever is being asked of them. Victims might feel like they don’t have time to think, so they do whatever is necessary to avoid the negative consequences of doing nothing. These types of emails or text messages alert you of some imminent danger. They’ll ask you to provide or confirm sensitive information, like your bank details, your mother’s maiden name, or your passwords or PIN codes to prevent the bad thing from happening. Most businesses will never email you and request your personal information or security credentials. If you feel like you’re being rushed into giving out personal details, hit the delete button and forget you ever got that message.
  • Suspicious links or attachments: The rule of thumb is never open an attachment or click a link sent by someone you don’t know. It could be a virus or ransomware. If you’re unsure, always ask your family or friends. If you’re prompted to click a hyperlink, you can hover your mouse over it and inspect it in the preview that should pop up, but don’t click it. If you don’t recognize the website or realize it’s fake, flag the email as spam, and move it straight to the trash.

Be Mindful of Targeted Ads 

If you’ve recently been looking for information regarding diseases, allergies, or even diets, you’ve probably noticed related ads popping up on your social media feeds and websites you visit.

As everyone is concerned about the coronavirus, a lot of health products are being sold as a “cure” or an effective “prevention method” against the virus. These include everything from unapproved drugs and essential oils, to lotions and special brews. Colloidal silver is currently (and falsely) being advertised as the ultimate cure for some strains of coronavirus.

The following tips can help you avoid falling into one of these traps: 

  • Do your research before you purchase: It might be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort to look up information on anything purporting to be a cure or prevention method against a health condition. Any known cure or preventative measures will be listed on official websites, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can also always consult your doctor to confirm the information. When it comes to the novel coronavirus, we know there’s no cure, but a vaccine is in the works. And when it arrives, you definitely won’t be able to get it from an email someone sent from a Russian “medical” website.
  • Search for information about the company: A quick Google search should tell you quickly whether a company really exists. You might even find stories from people who’ve been scammed in that same way. If the company is real, you should be able to find relevant information about the legitimacy of the organization and the product it’s trying to sell you.
  • Scan the reviews: Some reviews are fake. They’re often very general and short with plenty of spelling mistakes. However, they can sometimes be more elaborate as some businesses pay people to review their products or just write the reviews themselves. This usually results in customers either paying for something they never receive or getting a product that doesn’t match the original claims at all. The best way to spot a fake product is to search for reviews on it on multiple websites. If it’s illegitimate, you’re bound to find some disappointed customers who fell victim to empty promises. Pay attention to the negative reviews, especially if the positive ones all seem oddly similar.

Fact-Check Everything

Tips and tricks aside, the best advice we can offer is to always be skeptical. Google is your friend—do a bit of research to confirm anything you read or hear.

If you’re considering buying a certain product, learn more about the ingredients and be sure to get your information from reliable sources. Is it actually safe to consume? Have there been studies proving its efficacy as a cure or prevention method? Does it have any dangerous side effects?

If you’ve received an email warning you about significant changes in a company’s policy or offering you an exclusive service, check that company’s official website for updates about these. Always search the web to see if any business or offer is legitimate.

If you’re still in doubt, call the company and ask if the email or text message you received was legitimate.

The internet is full of fraudsters just waiting to make a buck off the vulnerable. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The next time you receive an odd email or see an ad for a supposedly miraculous health product, follow these tips! They’ll protect you from scammers and online criminals.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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