Scams Promising to Kill Coronavirus Spread on Crowdfunding Platforms
Persistent efforts will be required as sellers discover new ways to covertly market their goods
Teas, homeopathic tinctures, and essential oils are being hawked online as coronavirus treatments. One such seller promoted an herbal brew called “Coronavirus Protocol.” Another claimed that drinking harmful colloidal silver could strengthen the immune system. None have been approved by the Food and Drug and Administration.
On Monday, the FDA issued warning letters to seven sellers of such fraudulent COVID-19 products — like the herbal tea and colloidal silver merchants — who now face legal recourse. But the FDA action was an exception: More often, the frontline defenders against profiteering schemes are the digital platforms where they are funded, advertised, and sold.
How to moderate an outbreak of phony products is a formidable task for websites already teeming with medical disinformation. Last month, Amazon removed more than 1 million products claiming to cure the disease. Others are scrubbing items that even mention “coronavirus.” Etsy removed hundreds of such listings, from crochet virus art to shirts saying “I Survived Coronavirus 2020,” according to BuzzFeed News. Meanwhile, eBay has enforced a full ban on face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes to discourage unfair pricing, and is also removing products that contain the virus’s name.
For most online platforms, persistent efforts will be required as sellers discover new ways to covertly market their goods. A OneZero review found that some coronavirus schemes are already slipping through the cracks. Despite eBay’s full ban, as of Tuesday, there were still dozens of sellers offering hand sanitizer and N95 masks (one box of large hand sanitizers is priced at $200). On crowdfunding websites — where virtually anyone with an idea and internet connection can advertise a product — numerous items promise to kill or prevent coronavirus with no indication of having been approved for such use, and people are soliciting money for “future” medical bills.
On Indiegogo, a mask sterilizer using “germicidal ultraviolet to kill Flu or Coronavirus” has raised more than $1,600 of its $5,000 goal. The…