avoid health scams

How To Avoid Covid-19 Health Scams

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus has made an unprecedented entry into our lives and wreaked havoc. The world hasn’t grappled with a pandemic of this magnitude in over a hundred years, and it is an understatement to say that we aren’t exceptionally well-prepared to deal with it. Handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the auxiliary issues that keep cropping up in different countries now and then, it has given us all lessons to remember for a very long time to come. 

One of the key learnings from the novel Coronavirus is the existence of diametric opposites in the world. On the one hand, we have seen stories of human kindness and people changing lives with their simple, impactful actions. We have seen heroes setting up community kitchens to help migrant laborers, people creating crowdfunding accounts to help with treatment costs of the disadvantaged and humans standing up for each other like never before. The contributions of millions of frontline workers who risk their lives each day to ensure essentials like medical assistance, law & order, sanitation etc. reach us without hindrances, is invaluable. 

While the above is one (wonderful) side of the story, there is a darker, more inhuman side to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the rise in roadside crime rates, an increase in the number of phishing and malware scams and hikes in overall fraud. We can socio-economically explain why there has been an upsurge in petty crime as well as elaborate scams, but we need not personally suffer because of it. After all, why should a few individuals bear the brunt of pervasive societal failures that will take decades to eradicate? 

So let’s talk about the kinds of COVID-19 scams that are on the rise and what we can do to avoid being outwitted by these scammers! 

Why health scams? 

One of the hot favorites of COVID-19 unique scams is the various health scams flooding the market. The reason for this is relatively self-explanatory. We are in the middle of a pandemic caused by an invisible virus. The levels of panic and the uncertainty have led to widespread paranoia amongst the general public. A fear factor can give sales a huge push, and this is what the scammers are trying to cash in.

They know that since there is no cure or preventive vaccine for COVID-19 in the markets as of now, people are ready to go to great lengths and secure themselves against the virus. Whether it is a dubious insurance scheme or a fake alternative medicine, innocent and scared denizens will spend their money on these things and get duped. The fear associated with coronavirus is making people make decisions that they would otherwise not have taken.

This is because of the “just in case it works” or “what’s the harm in trying” rationale. It is well-known in behavioral economics that the fear of loss makes people more prone to taking risks. And that is one of the critical forces in play when it comes to health-related COVID-19 scams. 

Now that we know what is going on, let us delve deeper into the specifics of COVID-19 health scams:

Vaccine and Treatment Scams- Among COVID-19 health scams, the ones promising a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment are the most suspicious, but unfortunately, also the most popular. These scams include all ads, websites, and e-mails, messages that advertise a “cure” or “successful preventive measure” for the novel coronavirus. Not only is this an utter waste of your money, fake medicines and treatments can also be detrimental to your health, delaying your recovery from COVID-19 or causing collateral damage to your health. 

How do you avoid this? Well, merely ignoring these tall (and false) claims is the best way to go. Trust me, if there were any such treatment or vaccine that is effective or is even showing positive signs, it would be all over the news, and you would hear about it from sources other than the one questionable email in your inbox. So, don’t buy into any merchant claiming to sell a successful cure or preventive measure concerning this deadly virus! 

Another version of a pharmaceutical scam is pharmacies selling spurious or ineffective drugs for other illnesses. Since most of the purchases are occurring online, pharmacies seize the opportunity to sell you medicines that do not work or are not authentic in the name and price of the medicine that you ordered. To avoid this, stick to purchasing medication from shops and dispensaries that you already know for prescription or OTC drugs. Avoid ordering online from third-party sellers via e-commerce websites as counterfeit medicines can be distributed, which will ultimately be either damaging or ineffective. 

Price-gouging and related scams Due to the scarcity of protective equipment and the unavailability of immediate testing, there has been a climb in the number of frauds associated with selling faulty testing and protective equipment and charging exorbitant rates for the same. The demand for these illegal tests is also prevalent as people do not want to adhere to government quarantine rules, want quicker results etc. 

Sometimes the fraudsters market products that are neither authentic nor effective. In some cases, even legitimate websites and providers have been accused of delivering such products; either knowingly or unknowingly. In other cases, there are fraudulent entities that claim to be government-backed or charity associations that ask for donations in the name of providing COVID-19 protective kits and testing equipment to those in need. One way to avoid being fooled under these scams is to check the legitimacy of the source from where you intend to make the purchase. Another method is to check for reviews online or from people you know. Get tested at approved organizations in hygienic conditions and cross-check the price of the test before you get it done. The testing rates are standardized in most cities and states of India, and the information is readily available. 

Insurance and Investment Scams – Special COVID-19 insurance schemes have been introduced into the market. This is indeed a useful scheme to provide some financial relief to those affected by COVID-19. However, scammers have entered this framework too, with fake insurance schemes that only take your money but provide no benefit when you try to make a claim. A surefire way to avoid getting duped this way is to make sure any insurance product you buy is IRDAI approved and the same can be also verified with the IRDA website.

In the investment sphere, there are unreliable organizations that ask you to invest money in their companies in the name of COVID-19 medicine or vaccine research for their personal gains. It is best to avoid investing in any such funds until you are sure of the credibility of the organization via a trusted source.

FAQs: Health Scams

Where will I come across these scams?

A crucial point to note is that most of these scams are digital in nature. That is, they target you primarily through the internet or via apps and phone calls. This is the age of data, and everyone’s contact details are stored in thousands of databases around the world. With the advent of social distancing and people spending more time virtually, the digital space is the prime source for targeting people. So, exercising caution while surfing the web is essential if you want to avoid being trapped within the fake promises of a coronavirus health scam. Another point to remember is that most of these ads or e-mails will be “click-bait”, i.e. you will be tempted to believe them and click on them or proceed further. Avoid doing this unless you are sure of the authenticity of the website, app, email-id, or insurance company that is contacting you.

What is the next step in case I fall into a COVID-19 scam trap?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of unpredictable changes in our lives and along with those, is a host of dangers that we must learn to avoid. Online health scams are one such danger. While the list of preventive measures might seem long and challenging to execute, it is worth the caution now to lead a relatively tension-free life a few weeks down the line. Given how widespread and elaborate these scams are, the only way to avoid them is to exercise utmost caution before taking any decision and to consult trustworthy sources before doing so. Do keep your eyes open and think before you “click”. Hopefully, we shall all tide through this crisis and come out unscathed.

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