What do you first think of when you hear the word “Ebola?” You might picture West Africa, where the current Ebola epidemic continues to rage, or you might think of the virus’s particularly gruesome side effects. And you’ve almost certainly wondered how you can reliably protect you and your family from contracting it.
But you might find comfort in learning that you’re not alone. This is because, according to a recent NY Times article, “More than half of U.S. adults worry that there will be a large-scale Ebola outbreak across the next year… [and] most of them are nervous that they’ll get sick with Ebola, or someone in their family will.”
The unfortunate fact of the matter, though, is that there are hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of unscrupulous companies out there who are more than willing to sell you “freedom from fear” by convincing you that they provide some sort of Ebola vaccine or cure, or a wide variety of other illnesses. But here’s the truth: According to the FTC, “There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola. Although there are experimental Ebola vaccines and treatments under development, these are in the early stages of product development, have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, and the supply is very limited. [In addition,] no dietary supplements can claim to prevent or cure Ebola.”
Because of the consequences of catching Ebola, the widespread panic it’s causing all over the globe, as well as the likelihood that you’ll think about purchasing a “vaccine” or “cure” sometime in the near future, we here at HighYa consider it our duty to outline some of the most popular Ebola scams. After all, we want you to be safe and to hold on to more of your hard-earned money, which can only be accomplished by helping you to become a more informed consumer.
First Things First: What is Ebola?
According to the World Health Organization, “Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans,” which is transmitted between humans (via broken skin or mucous membranes) through infected bodily fluids, such as blood. However, humans cannot transmit Ebola until they begin showing signs of infection.
After an incubation period ranging between 2 and 21 days, an infected Ebola patient will display symptoms such as high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, or sore throat. As infection progresses, a patient may experience increasingly severe symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, skin rashes, and even internal and/or external bleeding. The WHO claims that among those infected with Ebola, the average fatality rate hovers around 50%.
Whew! This is a lot to be afraid of, right? But at HighYa, we’re here to make you a more informed consumer, not to make you afraid.
Where There’s Fear, There’s a Scam
As we mentioned in the beginning, fear is a powerful selling tool. Fear causes your body to release cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” which in small doses is beneficial in a variety of ways. However, in larger doses associated with a fear-based fight or flight response, it can cause damage over the long term.
The point here is that when you’re scared for your family’s safety due to a fairly horrific virus that might seem to be barreling out of control, your fear rises, and along with it, so do your cortisol levels. Your body doesn’t like to be in this state, so it searches for some sort of “freedom” from it, which is the exact state scammers want you to be. In other words, at this point, you’re (or at least your wallet is) primed to be taken advantage of.
Popular Ebola Scams
Given how gruesome the virus is and how quickly it’s spread, it could be convincingly argued that Ebola is the hottest trend in advertising right now. Everyone wants to know what’s going on, and they always want to know more about how to protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming infected. Unfortunately, scammers understand this as well as any advertising agency, and will use the fear it generates to separate you from your money.
With this in mind, here are some of the most popular Ebola scams currently out there:
Any time a widespread health concern emerges, nutritional supplements manufacturers are often some of the first companies to hop on the bandwagon and promote a cure. As we detailed in our Nutritional Supplements Buyer’s Guide, this is because 1) supplements are not regulated by the FDA until thousands of complaints have accumulated, and 2) whether we’re talking about weight loss ads or purported cures or vaccines for Ebola, they’re used to selling their products based on emotional—not informed—responses from their customers.
As a testament to this, the FTC recently sent a warning letter to a company called Natural Solutions Foundation, based on their claims that some of their supplements could treat/prevent Ebola. In it, the FTC cites specific language used on the NSF website, such as: “As of now it is said that there is no treatment against Ebola, and that is not true. In fact there is a well-known, well characterized, nutrient. That is Nano Silver....” In fact, the company goes on to specifically state, “[T]here is a cure, treatment and prevention for Ebola virus,” and "NANO SILVER, at 10 PPM, effectively kills the Ebola virus."
However, whether you’re looking at a supplement from Natural Solutions Foundation or any other manufacturer, here’s the truth: As we mentioned at the beginning, there currently are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola. Any claims otherwise should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism (we’ll talk more about this in a moment).
Ebola Educational Materials: Scams Or Not?
Another common tactic that companies use to grab more of your money during health crises is by selling you related information. But here’s the catch: Because Ebola outbreaks have the potential to become a serious problem, and because governments all around the world want their citizens to be informed about the threat, a great deal of information about the virus can be found online for free, and in almost any language spoken.
As such, we specifically used the word “tactic” to describe what these companies are doing, because it technically isn’t a scam. After all, they’re often providing you with exactly what it is they claim; a single source of information about Ebola. And to be honest, we live in a busy world, and not everyone has the time to sit down and scour for answers to their Ebola-related questions.
But if you decide to purchase any of these informational products (such as Ebola 911), especially those published after the initial Ebola outbreak in May 2014, keep in mind that unless it specifically claims to contain breaking new information, you could likely find much of the same online free of charge (the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control are great places to start for disease-related concerns).
As we described in our Immunizing Yourself Against Identity Theft article, phishing scams involve intentionally mimicking a legitimate website, or sending emails with the intent of stealing an individual’s personal information, or downloading harmful programs (known as malware) onto their computers. Criminals will often use current events to spread their scams, especially when these events involve potential outbreaks of disease (remember the fear we talked about previously?).
In fact, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team recently issued an alert that Ebola themed phishing and malware scams are on the rise. As such, be very wary opening emails from people you don’t know, especially if they’re promoting Ebola information. We’ll talk more about this next.
How Can You Avoid Falling for an Ebola Scam?
When it comes to identifying and avoiding Ebola-related scams, the more information you have, the better your chances. That’s why consumer advocacy websites like HighYa are passionate about arming you with as much information as possible, and about providing you with everything you need to know.
With this in mind, here are some tips you can immediately put to use:
When it comes to nutritional supplements, if you find one that claims to prevent or cure Ebola, it is a scam, and you should avoid it at all costs. However, if you’re set on learning as much as you can about the product, be sure to research it thoroughly using consumer review websites like HighYa, not to mention speaking with your physician.
The Better Business Bureau also recommends avoiding nutritional supplements that claim to “do it all,” provide personal testimonials in lieu of scientific evidence, promote conspiracy theories (e.g. the government/big business/pharmaceutical industry is suppressing the information), or use the phrase “miracle cure.” For more great tips, be sure to click on the link above.
Educational materials can be a tricky situation, since they might toe the line between being a legitimate product and a waste of your money. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself the following:
- Is this being offered by a reputable publisher, or by a company who has little experience providing educational material?
- What kind of information does the product claim to contain? Are the claims broad and generic (e.g. “what you need to know”) using fear-based language, or are they very specific and to the point (e.g. “you’ll learn what Ebola is, how it spreads, what the likelihood is that you’ll contract it, and what symptoms you should look for”)?
- Are they using high-pressure sales tactics?
In order to avoid phishing scams, Ebola-related or otherwise, the key is to practice safe online habits. This includes things such as never opening an email from someone you don’t know (and if you do, never downloading any attachments it contains) and avoiding clicking on pop-up advertisements. In fact, even if you receive an email from someone you do know (such as your bank or credit card company), it’s best to visit their site directly instead of logging on after clicking on an email link.
Other tips include making sure you have an active firewall, making sure your anti-virus software is up to date, verifying that the website uses a secure connection (usually indicated by an “https:” before the site’s address, and never entering your information into a website that you don’t feel comfortable with. In other words, trust your gut instinct.
In Our Global Society, Information is King
There might not be a cure for Ebola, but there is a cure for Ebola-related scams: Information, which is where you come in.
Consider the fact that everyone you meet knows something you don’t, and if you could only find a way to tap into that information, think about how much your consciousness could be raised. And at HighYa, we’re here to provide you with such a space: A centralized place where your voice can be heard. But this only works if you speak up.
Do you have experience with Ebola scams? Did you successfully avoid one in the past, or did you fall victim to one? Whatever you have to say, we want to hear it, and so do other consumers all across the globe.
So go ahead. Leave a comment below, share this article through your social media accounts, and be a consumer superhero!