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Security & privacy

Watch out for scam sites claiming to sell COVID-19 treatments

One of the scariest things about this novel coronavirus is the fact that it’s never been seen in human populations before. As a newly discovered virus, we have no natural immunity, no vaccine and no known cures to treat the disease it causes.

As a result, a global race has begun for scientists and bio technicians to discover the most effective solutions. Early studies seem promising, but for the time being, prevention is the best option most people have. Tap or click to see three proven ways to prevent yourself from catching COVID-19.

Two antimalarial drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have emerged as potential candidates for treating COVID-19. Neither has been approved for regular use by physicians, but that hasn’t stopped scammers from harnessing the promising early results to rip people off online. If you see a website selling either of these drugs, avoid it like the plague!

Experimental COVID-19 treatments are being harnessed by scammers

According to researchers at cybersecurity firm Normshield, at least 362 scam websites pushing experimental or unproven coronavirus drugs have been identified since January.

These sites, which mostly serve as phishing operations, primarily mention hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which have seen some positive early reports from researchers. Other websites mention Remdesivir, which is an antiviral-class medication that is currently being tested for effectiveness on COVID-19.

The scam sites aren’t just stealing login credentials from visitors, either. Many of them are actually claiming to sell these experimental drugs, which aren’t even available to the wider public. Usually, you must be a pharmacist or doctor to even get within arm’s reach of them (if at all).

Needless to say, if you purchase and check out from any of these online shops, you won’t be getting any real medication in the mail. Most likely, they’ll charge your account and leave you out to dry. Plus, the scammers behind them might even use your card information to inflict more damage in the future.

Why are these scammers pushing these drugs?

Neither hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine has been officially approved for treating COVID-19. Both of these drugs have seen some positive experimental results, and public figures ranging from Elon Musk to the President of the United States have expressed optimism over their use in the war against COVID-19.

But scientists are urging caution, stating that more research is needed to determine the efficiency of these drugs as a treatment. The side effects alone, for example, tend to be quite severe, which means more testing is required to determine safe and effective doses.

Remdesivir, on the other hand, isn’t even accessible for most doctors at all — and is still very much in the testing phase by its developers at Gilead Sciences. It was initially created to fight Ebola, but research was redirected as part of the efforts against the novel coronavirus.

Just like what you might encounter on Facebook or other online marketplaces, any products claiming to treat or cure COVID-19 are fraudulent. Unlike with Facebook, though, there isn’t a way to shut down these snake oil peddlers or ban them from the web. Tap or click to see what Facebook is doing about ads for fake COVID-19 cures.

As with any news surrounding COVID-19, treat what you hear with a certain degree of skepticism, and rely on trusted outlets to deliver news that’s been fact-checked for accuracy. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you made the mistake of buying medication from a shady website, take a moment to call your bank and let them know to be on the lookout for any fraudulent charges. You’ll also want to change any passwords you use that match what you entered on that site for good measure.

In times like these when money is tight for almost everyone, the last thing you want to do is give a scammer access to your bank account (and possibly your newly-deposited stimulus check). Tap or click to see how you can find out when yours is arriving.

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