Ebola Schemes Play On Fears Deadly Virus May Spread

By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor


An image of the Ebola virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The deadly ravages of the Ebola virus in West Africa and the recent death of a Liberian national from the disease in Dallas have sparked bogus emails that play on the fears of consumers concerned about a possible outbreak in the United States, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has warned about emails that offer news about Ebola or offer a $29 kit that will protect consumers from the virus. Madigan urges consumers to delete the emails and to avoid clicking on any links in the emails. Clicking on links could download a virus to the user’s computer.

“We suspect these emails are the handiwork of scammers seeking to take advantage of people’s understandable fear and anxiety surrounding this international public health risk,” Madigan said in a press release. “It’s extremely important that you delete these messages and instead consult legitimate resources for more information about prevention measures.”

BBB isn’t surprised about the emergence of such emails and other potential scams. Almost any time there’s news of a disaster, celebrities or other events in the news, scammers invent schemes and spread their nets for potential victims.

BBB recently warned of “clickbait” scams that emerged after the death of comedian Robin Williams, the beheading of journalists by ISIS in the Middle East and reports of domestic violence by football players. Clickbait scams use well-known names or events from the news to trick consumers into clicking on links that can download malicious viruses or other malware to computers. Sometimes they pop up on Facebook or Twitter, but they also may arrive by email.

Some clickbait scams ask consumers to provide sensitive personal information before they allow viewing of a video or access to their site. In some cases, they disguise their sites to look like Facebook or another familiar site. And in one of the scams cited by Madigan, they apparently are attempting to sell a kit of dubious value for an inflated price.

Reliable information on Ebola from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available here.

BBB and Madigan also urge consumers to be aware of potential charitable donation scams linked to Ebola. The need for medical supplies and other relief is real, but donors should look for legitimate charitable organizations that have experience dealing with the disease or with relief in affected areas. BBB provides Charity Reviews of local and national charities through its website, bbb.org.  BBB tips on charitable donations are available here.

BBB tips on avoiding clickbait scams include:

  • Don’t take the bait. Stay away from promotions of “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” footage or news. If it sounds too outlandish to be true, it is probably a scam.
  • Hover over a link to see its true destination. Before you click, mouse over the link to see where it will take you. Don’t click on links leading to unfamiliar websites.
  • Confirm before you trust your “friends” online. It might not actually be your friends who are “liking” or sharing scam links to photos. Their account may have been hacked and scammers could be using another tactic called “clickjacking.” Clickjacking is a technique that scammers use to trick you into clicking on social media links that you would not usually click on.
  • Report scam posts on Facebook by following these instructions.
  • Report malware or spam on Twitter by following these instructions.

Consumers are urged to contact BBB at 314-645-3300 or www.bbb.org, for a BBB Business Review or BBB Charity Review before doing business with any company or charity.



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