Don't be an Ebola scam victim

By Features Consumer Reports

With the Ebola virus making headlines across the globe, scammers are trying to use the deadly disease to trick people out of their money or into downloading malware onto their computer or mobile device.

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Attorney General Lisa Madigan of Illinois has issued a warning about separate e-mails that are apparent attempts to exploit public fears about the virus. One, titled “People being quarantined,” contains a hyperlink that Madigan said could infect recipients’ computers with malware. A second e-mail offers a $29 “surplus protection kit” supposedly designed for emergency response teams and law enforcement agencies.

“We suspect these e-mails are the handiwork of scammers seeking to take advantage of people’s understandable fear and anxiety surrounding this international public health risk,” Madigan said.

Separately, the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration have sent a warning letter to New Jersey-based Natural Solutions Foundation in connection with its marketing of products containing nano silver, which the company says in a nine-minute video posted on YouTube can inactivate various viruses, including Ebola. (Consumer Reports raised concerns about the company’s marketing earlier this month.)

“The cure and prevention for Ebola is a nutrient,” says a woman identifying herself in the video as a doctor and the group’s medical director. “The fact is that the FDA, the WHO, and all the other international authorities know perfectly well what I’m about to tell you, and they’re not telling you. Why? Well, you can figure that out for yourself.” She then describes how nano silver supposedly inactivates Ebola.

Read why simple hand-washing can help you prevent catching Ebola and other infections and why we don't recommend using antibacterial soap. And find out how to distinguish Ebola from the flu.

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In their letter, the agencies warned that the nutritional products were being marketed as drugs, in violation of federal law.

In a warning about Ebola scams, the FTC said, “Banking on fear, scam artists are making unsubstantiated claims that products containing everything from silver to herbal oils and snake venom can cure or prevent Ebola.”  The FDA issued a similar warning about bogus Ebola-related products in August.

Another concern is that con artists may pose as charities seeking donations needed to help out in the crisis.

“Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters who either solicit for bogus charities or aren’t honest about how a so-called charity will use your contribution,” an FTC alert says.

What to do

Be skeptical when receiving e-mails, texts, phones calls, or other communications you receive about Ebola. They could be from scammers impersonating officials, charities, or others. Remember that opening e-mail attachments or clicking on hyperlinks can expose your electronic device to malware. Also be on guard against look-alike websites that may try to imitate the legitimate government and charity sites.

Be similarly careful about sources you see on social media. Just because someone claiming to be an expert appears in a video or elsewhere doesn’t mean the information is accurate or trustworthy. Don’t buy dietary supplements or other products that claim they can prevent or cure Ebola.

Giving to a charity that's helping in the Ebola crisis is the best way to protect you and your family from being infected, says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project, which aims to reduce harmful medial errors. But research any charity before donating. The charity watchdogs CharityNavigator and CharityWatch have posted lists of top-rated non-profit groups providing assistance in the Ebola crisis. Another watchdog that you can use to check out charities is the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. The FTC says one group worth considering donating to is the CDC Foundation, a Congressional established charity that has a Global Disaster Response Fund that supports the work of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa.

Keep in mind that even a legitimate, top-rated charity may not be in a position to provide assistance in the Ebola epidemic. So before giving, find out how a group will use your money. This information likely is available on a group’s website. Don’t give through a professional fundraiser. Instead, donate to a charity directly. For more tips on charitable giving read "Make Sure Your Donation Counts."

—Anthony Giorgianni

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.