From anti-virus activewear to dubious COVID-19 test kits, many people have been trying to dishonestly profit from the pandemic.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to numerous scams
- It is illegal to sell products using misleading or deceptive claims, and large fines are being issued
- You can avoid scams by getting products and information from trusted sources
Since the end of March, the body that regulates medical products has handed out 58 coronavirus-related fines worth almost $600,000.
That accounts for 60 per cent of all fines issued by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for this period.
With COVID-19 case numbers increasing in Victoria and New South Wales, there are concerns products making misleading claims about the virus might be on the rise as well.
What you need to know about coronavirus:
So what scams are out there, and how can you avoid getting caught up in them?
If a product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
In April, celebrity chef Pete Evans was sanctioned for suggesting light frequencies emitted by his “BioCharger” could be programmed to treat “the Wuhan coronavirus”.
Under Australian consumer law, it is illegal to sell products with misleading or deceptive label claims.
“Everyone is worried about coronavirus but, frankly, exercise wear is not going to stop you getting coronavirus,” Department of Health deputy secretary Adjunct Professor John Skerritt said.
When trying to spot a shonky health product, the TGA said you should be wary of claims something is 100 per cent effective, and avoid getting recommendations from social media influencers.
“Get your health advice from qualified professionals instead,” the TGA stated on its website.
Unapproved medical treatments and devices
Doctors are still searching for an effective treatment for COVID-19, but that has not stopped some companies claiming to have a cure.
Australians have seen advertisements for numerous treatments, test kits and surgical masks that have not gone through the stringent approval processes required by the TGA to ensure products are safe and effective.
“Any ad that claims a health product prevents or cures COVID-19 is likely to be illegal,” the TGA warned on its website.
Masks and hand sanitiser have been one area of concern.
Last week consumer advocacy group Choice revealed Mosaic hand sanitiser contained only 23 per cent alcohol — well below the advertised and safe 70 per cent on the label.
The product has been withdrawn from sale.
“There has been a trend where people have been seeing these products, reporting them and the regulator has acted quickly,” said Choice campaigns director Erin Turner.
Before buying medication the TGA recommends consumers check for an AUST number that will be on the label of all drugs allowed in Australia.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has received 3,400 reports of coronavirus scams, with nearly $1.8 million lost since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Their Scamwatch website has a list of current COVID-19 scams targeting personal information, online shopping, and superannuation.
“Do not provide your personal, banking or superannuation details to strangers who have approached you,” an ACCC spokesperson told the ABC.
“Scammers may pretend to have a connection with you. So it’s important to stop and check, even when you are approached by what you think is a trusted organisation.”
With demand for particular groceries, protective equipment and even whitegoods on the rise, some retailers have more than doubled their prices on particular products.
One freezer went from $916 the week before lockdown to $1,490 after.
While it may be unethical, in most cases price gouging is not illegal.
You can sell homemade masks, just don’t say they’re COVID-proof
Drive presenter Raf Epstein interviews John Skerritt from the Therapeutic Goods Administration about what you can and can’t do when selling products related to COVID-19.
Choice is campaigning for state and territory governments to introduce laws to cap the prices of essential goods during emergencies, similar to existing ticket scalping laws in some states.
How can you avoid being scammed?
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be sceptical of outlandish claims.
- Look to trusted sources for advice. Choice said you should rely on organisations that have fact checkers in place and base their claims on reliable scientific evidence.
- Be wary of celebrity endorsements, or social media influencers. They are unlikely to be medical professionals, and may even be getting paid to push a product.
What happens if you are scammed?
If you are scammed, first of all don’t be too hard on yourself.
“Scammers are really sophisticated, so don’t be embarrassed or surprised if you or your loved ones are caught up,” Ms Turner said.
For an individual fix you can go to your state or territory fair trading office, and your bank might be able to help you with chargebacks if you have lost money.
The ACCC investigates complaints and also has advice on where to get help.
Get your CompTIA A+, Network+ White Hat-Hacker, Certified Web Intelligence Analyst and more starting at $35 a month. Click here for more details.