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BBB warning of fake websites selling face masks, other medical equipment during COVID-19 crisis

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Posted at 2:07 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 14:07:18-04

CLEVELAND — The Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland is reminding Ohioans to make sure that they only shop at retailers they know and trust following reports of residents losing money to fake sellers who are hawking personal protection equipment online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the BBB, a resident in Maple Heights placed an order for N95 masks through a company and paid for expedited shipping. After not receiving the order, the buyer became suspicious.

The BBB states that the address actually belonged to an unrelated home, and the main photo on the website was ripped off from another website.

Another person lost $200 after trying to buy masks from another seller. The BBB states, “These sites use tricks like limited-time deals to entice consumers into ordering more. Furthermore, unscrupulous websites like these open consumers up to additional risk from stolen personal information, such as credit card numbers.”

“During times of economic uncertainty, consumers have to remain vigilant against scams,” said Sue McConnell, president of The Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland. “Scammers are lurking online waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers.”

The BBB recommends the following:

  • Homemade Masks are an option. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have directions on how to make homemade face masks on its website. Some of these DIY instructions also include “no sew” masks made from t-shirts. Wearing facial coverings such as bandanas, scarfs, and handkerchiefs also help prevent person-to-person transmission of disease.
  • Only buy from reputable stores and websites. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy them directly from a seller you know and trust. Check BBB.org to see what other consumers’ experiences have been.
  • Be sure the online store has working contact information. If a company seems legitimate but you aren’t familiar with it, be extra careful with your personal information. Before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company is legitimate. A real street address, a working customer service number, a positive BBB Business Profile… these are just a few of the things to be looking out for to determine if a company is legitimate.
  • Be wary of stock photos. BBB has identified many suspected scam websites reusing the same stock photos. Use websites like tineye.com and Google Image search to reverse search images online. If the same picture is used across multiple websites, be skeptical.
  • Research the seller. Fraud is prevalent online, and scammers can pose easily as legitimate merchants. Check the company’s website domain registration at whois.com. You will see when the site was created and the country where the registration was created. It can be difficult to determine the reputation of a foreign company.
  • Pay by credit card. Using your credit card provides protection if the order is not received.

The BBB asks that anyone who finds a scam to report it, here. Unethical advertising can be reported, here.

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