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'With items selling out and production on others halted, scammers and opportunists are looking to cash in.'

COURTESY PHOTO - Danielle KaneNews about coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19, continues to dominate headlines.

And anything that grabs headlines, grabs dollars.

The stock market has been plunging faster than a theme park roller coaster. Panicked consumers are flocking to stores to buy face masks, hand sanitizer, paper products and more. The Food and Drug Administration reports that Americans now face pharmaceutical drug shortages due to China's veritable shutdown.

The run on these items is causing shortages for health and construction workers, dental offices and others. With items selling out and production on others halted, scammers and opportunists are looking to cash in.

If you even simply Google "coronavirus symptoms," magical sites claiming to have the cure or preventatives pop up in your search. The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that these claims are entirely false. Currently, there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, although treatments are in development and a vaccine was announced in Seattle that is ready to begin trials.

Face masks, including the particle-blocking N-95 mask often worn by construction workers, do not prevent the spread of coronavirus among the general population, health officials say.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams is pleading with Americans to stop "panic shopping." No approved vaccines, drugs or products specifically for coronavirus can be purchased online or in stores.

So, take a deep breath before you embark on a coronavirus shopping spree and familiarize yourself with these tips so you can avoid falling prey to coronavirus con artists.

Spot fraudulent health products by watching out for these red flags:

n Don't panic. Do your research. Be skeptical of alarmist and conspiracy theory claims and don't rush into buying anything that seems too good - or crazy - to be true. Always double check information you see online with official news sources. Take extra precaution when considering items from pop-up ads or unsolicited emails, phone calls or text messages as these could be click-bait scams.

• Be wary of personal testimonials and "miracle" product claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to immediately cure a wide range of diseases. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases. Also, testimonials are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.

• It's "all natural." Just because it's natural does not mean it's good for you. All natural does not mean the same thing as safe. 

• Check with your doctor. If you're tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first. This is what they are there for.

• Screen your calls. Amid the ever-changing guise of impostor phone calls comes the latest coronavirus scam: someone calling you pretending to be a health insurance agent, or even affiliated with the CDC or WHO. Use extreme caution when dealing with anyone over the phone who asks for your personally identifiable information, and never share your health history or social security number with a stranger.

For more information, read more about coronavirus scams on the Federal Trade Commission's website, and see BBB's alert about counterfeit face masks. Learn more about the disease at the CDC's FAQ page.

If you've spotted a scam (whether or not you've lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.

Danielle Kane is Oregon state director for Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.


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