Ebola Scams Prey on the Public’s Fear

Brad Smith (C) with hazmat company CG Environmental Cleaning Guys directs an employee outside of the apartment where a second person diagnosed with the Ebola virus resides on October 12, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.
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Brad Smith (C) with hazmat company CG Environmental Cleaning Guys directs an employee outside of the apartment where a second person diagnosed with the Ebola virus resides on October 12, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.

With new Ebola cases or deaths now occurring daily, scam artists are hoping to bank on people's fear, offering all kinds of products they're marketing as the latest Ebola cure.

"One thing we've learned is that scams often follow the news, especially when there's a health scare in the headlines," noted the FTC on its website.

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"Scam artists are making unsubstantiated claims that products containing everything from silver to herbal oils and snake venom can cure or prevent Ebola," the site added.

Natural Solutions Foundation, for example, claims that nano silver, a nutrient not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, can cure people of Ebola. The company says the FDA is lying about the curable effects to protect big pharmaceutical companies. Natural Solutions Foundation sells a 16-ounce bottle of nano silver for $24.95.

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The Council for Responsible Nutrition, however, a trade association for the dietary supplement industry, recently reminded consumers that dietary supplements cannot claim to either cure or prevent Ebola. "Just to be clear, there is no research that suggests ingesting colloidal silver [nano silver] is any more effective than wishful thinking in treating or avoiding Ebola infections," adds Andrew Maynard of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center.

Currently there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent Ebola, although experimental vaccines and treatments are in the early stages of development. The FTC says no approved vaccines, drugs or products specifically for Ebola can be purchased online or in stores.

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In addition to con artists trying to sell bogus products for a quick profit, Ebola has also become a pretense for disseminating computer viruses.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan pointed to emails entitled "people being quarantined" that purport to share Ebola pandemic updates. These emails include a link to view a so-called civilian crisis protocol – but the link may infect a user's computer.

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"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," said Madigan in a press release last week. "It's extremely important that you delete these messages and instead consult legitimate resources for more information about prevention measures underway."

Madigan also warned against the rise of fake charities claiming to raise money to fight Ebola and urged the public to exercise caution when donating to any organization.