Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is affecting people, businesses and communities around the world. Better Business Bureau is reminding everyone to remain vigilant to avoid scams related to the virus, use necessary, common-sense precautions if you absolutely need to travel, and find reliable sources to stay informed about what to do as the virus continues to spread.
Unfortunately, Better Business Bureaus across the U.S. are receiving reports from consumers who are finding instances where the cost of high-demand items such as hand sanitizers, tissues, toilet paper, face masks and other products are skyrocketing. These complaints are about price-gouging - a dust mask was selling for $10, a case of water was priced at $35 and hand sanitizer was $60!
Price-gouging is a term referring to sellers who spike up the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. BBB is warning businesses to avoid the temptation to raise prices during this pandemic or any other disaster because it erodes marketplace trust. “Both consumers and businesses need to treat each other ethically and compassionately--especially now. Consumers and businesses need to consider that when the dust settles after this crisis we all will remember how we were treated. The way consumers and businesses treat each other today will certainly impact how they move forward after the crisis,” stated BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty.
“Besides receiving reports about price-gouging, BBB has also been hearing about fake cures, phony prevention measures, deceiving ads, government grant scams and other cons exploiting the public’s fear of the coronavirus,” said Hegarty. “There are no cures for COVID-19 at this time, and a preventative vaccine is at least a year or more away from being developed.”
Another scam that has resurfaced is the government grant scam with a coronavirus twist. Scammers are hacking into people’s Facebook accounts and are messaging their friends claiming they are eligible for a coronavirus government grant. Victims are told that the grant is being provided to seniors to pay their bills and buy medicine and supplies during this pandemic. All the victims are asked to do is supply their personal information and payment for processing fees. “Don’t fall for it,” is BBB’s advice.
“Suspected price-gouging, scams and phony ads should always be reported. BBB is particularly concerned about the exploitation of consumers during a declared emergency,” stated Hegarty. Victims of price gouging and deceptive ads should report them at BBB.org/AdTruth. Other scams should be reported to BBB.org/Scamtracker or to your state’s Attorney General’s office.
BBB has adapted its Standards for Marketplace Trust (BBB.org/Standards-for-Trust) for the coronavirus pandemic:
• Build Trust — Refrain from taking unfair advantage of a public emergency such as the coronavirus situation. As much as possible, keep prices at a reasonable level. Consider your daily operations as business-as-usual but with the adjustments required to help prevent the virus from spreading.
• Advertise Honestly — Do not fuel fears. More than anything, you need to act as a calming and reassuring partner to your customers. Continue with standard ethical advertising practices but add a reference that you’re following public health protocols to stem the transmission of the virus.
• Tell the Truth — The virus may impact deliverables. Be honest with your customers regarding timelines and product availability. Set realistic expectations if your delivery or service is impacted by illness or precautions. Set clear expectations with your customers. They will respect that you are thinking about them and taking this seriously.
• Be Transparent/Honor Promises — If you are unable to fulfill commitments, communicate immediately with your customers, rather than disappointing them and having to rationalize the reasons after the fact. Work with your customers to find solutions.
• Be Responsive/Embody Integrity — Demonstrate purpose and support for your community. Businesses can play a vital role in maintaining strong communities, even in challenging times.
To help you stay informed, BBB has created a designated page at BBB.org/coronavirus that offers resources and important updates for both businesses and consumers impacted by the virus. It will help you learn fact from fiction.