Column | FTC: Beware of COVID-cure claims
Since the pandemic began, the Federal Trade Commission has sent hundreds of cease and desist letters to companies that claimed their products and therapies can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. The sellers promoted their products and services through a variety of outlets, including social media.
Social media platforms have played a major role in conveying information about how to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
But just because the information is running on a platform you use doesn’t mean it’s accurate or truthful. Right now, no one can afford to take information at face value. Before you act on a message you’ve seen or before you share it, ask – and answer – these critical questions:
– Who is the message from? Do I know them? Do I trust them? Am I positive they are who they say they are?
– What do they want me to do? Just know something – or are they trying to get me to act in some way? Do they want me to buy something, download something or give up personal information?
– What evidence supports the message? Use some independent sources to fact-check it or debunk it. Maybe talk to someone you trust. But always verify, using a few additional sources.
Once you’ve done that, does the message still seem accurate? Approaching information by asking and answering these questions can help you sort out what’s helpful and what’s a scam. So, for example, if the message is about a treatment or cure, you know where to go: Coronavirus.gov.
The bottom line is when you come across information, stop. Talk to someone else. Focus on whether the facts back up the information you’re hearing. Good, solid evidence will point you in the right direction. Then decide what you think and what you want to do with the message: pass it on, act on it, ignore it, or roll your eyes at it. And if you suspect a scam, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov so we can shut the scammers down.
(Colleen Tressler works for the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Consumer and Business Education.)