Following the recent outbreak of the new Coronavirus across the world, there has been a proliferation of deceptive marketing techniques on online platforms to exploit consumers’ fears in order to sell products, such as protective masks, detergents or other substances, by falsely claiming that they can prevent or cure an infection with COVID-19.
To tackle the issue of online scams surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, the European Commission and consumer protection authorities in the member states have launched a number of joint measures. On 20 March, these authorities issued a common position on the most reported scams and unfair practices to help online platforms better identify such illegal practices, take them down and prevent the reappearance of similar ones.
As more people are staying at home due to self-isolation and social distancing, online shopping is on the rise. While we try to protect ourselves and our families from the virus, some traders are taking advantage of that anxiety to sell fake cures or products that allegedly prevent infection at very high prices.
False claims can be about anything from masks and caps to drugs and hand sanitiser – erroneously labelled as the only cure for coronavirus or the only protection against the coronavirus – and sold at many times their actual worth. Traders also use other tricks, such as falsely claiming that the products are scarce to push consumers into buying.
What to look out for
There are some giveaways that you can look out for. If you see any of the claims listed below, be on your guard:
- Explicit or implicit claims that a product can prevent or cure Covid-19
- The use of unofficial sources, such as self-declared doctors to back up claims
- The use of names or logo of government authorities, official experts or international institutions that have allegedly endorsed them, but with no hyperlinks or references to official documents
- Claims that the product is: “only available today”, “sells out fast”, etc.
- Sweeping claims such as: “lowest price on the market”, “only product that can cure Covid-19 infection” etc.
- Exorbitant prices due to the alleged healing powers of the products
If you come across unsupported or misleading claims on an online platform, use the platform operators’ reporting tool to inform them of that fact. Be aware that sometimes they can be innocently shared by a friend or family member who has been fooled and thinks they are helping you.
*Source: European Parliament