Scammers spreading Covid misinformation


I've seen this one.

HuffPost is now a part of Verizon Media

How Scammers Are Spreading Horrifying Coronavirus Disinformation To Millions

Right-wing news outlets are helping grifters profit off of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Jesselyn Cook
March 14, 2020

A voice booms over dramatic music and footage of mass graves: “You’ve been lied to about the coronavirus,” it cautions. “Will you have the knowledge you need to be a hero to your family? Or will you panic and wind up just another body that loved ones are afraid to bury?”

The video, titled “Military Source Exposes Shocking TRUTH About Coronavirus,” baselessly warns of a secret government cover-up surrounding COVID-19, and is filled with increasingly brazen falsehoods — all to peddle a course on becoming “coronavirus-proof.”

It’s one of many dangerous scams reaching millions of people amid the global pandemic, and a blind spot in Google’s sweeping crackdown on virus-related disinformation. The groups circulating these hoaxes are no small-fry hucksters: They are among the platform’s biggest political advertisers.

Right-wing news outlets including Newsmax, Townhall and Conservative Buzz have been quietly dispersing the virus-themed marketing materials through sponsored posts in their email newsletters. These third-party ads are often disguised to look like actual news articles, and the newsletters reach far beyond the outlets’ own readerships — thanks in large part to a covert email harvesting enterprise directly involving Google.

It works like this: The news outlet runs a Google ad featuring a clickbait poll such as, “Trump vs Biden 2020? Vote Here.” To vote, people must enter their email addresses, which will then be spammed with bogus coronavirus treatments, survival guides and so on. This has been going on for weeks, and the messaging is often terrifying and factually inaccurate.

Newsmax is one of the top-spending political advertisers on Google, where its email-harvesting polls are sometimes viewed in excess of 10 million times each. It has employed a similar strategy on Facebook, and has paid the platforms a total of more than $2.5 million.

On its website, Newsmax boasts that it has more than 6 million newsletter subscribers, most of whom are “information-hungry baby boomer readers.” Lately, it has been hammering them with sponsored content warning of financial ruin and death while hawking COVID-19 inspired stock market hacks, a book promising “surefire” infection protection, and even an immunity-boosting “miracle” mushroom from Japan. It sent out the government conspiracy video in an email alert on Wednesday titled, “Virus Plan: 50,000 Graves.”

The firm behind the Japanese mushroom post is the Health Sciences Institute (HSI) — a group that’s notorious for pushing medical misinformation. The Federal Trade Commission is already suing HSI’s parent company, Agora Financial, for allegedly targeting seniors with unsupported claims about a 28-day cure for Type 2 diabetes.

A former longtime Agora employee who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons told HuffPost that “probably 100%” of Agora’s advertising is done through outside newsletters, because most major social media sites have refused to run the company’s own ads. But even without direct Google ad space, Agora is still strategically leveraging the platform’s massive reach to capitalize on the coronavirus crisis.

“The Agora people know exactly how Newsmax and other sites use clickbait Google ads to build up their [email distribution lists],” which means a larger audience for Agora’s content, the former employee said. And by advertising through newsletters, Agora can “make the messaging more aggressive and fear-mongering” than what could run on Google.

This indirect advertising approach also allows grifters to escape public scrutiny for the claims spread through their promotional materials; many Google ads are cataloged through the platform’s public ad library, making them accessible to journalists and watchdogs.

A short time after HuffPost contacted Agora to seek comment for this article, HSI wiped all mentions of the Japanese mushroom from its website. Agora claimed that HSI’s webpage detailing the mushroom’s alleged benefits, including “some anti-cancer effects,” originally promoted an alternative medicine report and book.

However, Newsmax and Conservative Buzz newsletters link to that now-empty page using alarmist text specifically relating to the virus, including, “Click here to see the disturbing truth about the coronavirus (that they’re not telling us.)” Agora declined to answer almost all of HuffPost’s questions, including who wrote the newsletters’ ad copy.

“After a few days, we decided to stop promoting that report/book,” it said as part of a lengthy statement. “We were uncomfortable with the idea that it could be seen as an attempt to capitalize on a tragic situation.....


Staff member
HuffPost is now a part of Verizon Media

Please Don't Believe These Coronavirus Scams And Advice

Wellness culture is capitalizing on COVID-19. Here's what's a myth and what actually keeps you healthy.

By Julia Ries

For the past couple of months, fear and anxiety have been building over the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as COVID-19.

People have raced to grocery stores to pick up anything that might cut their risk of contracting the virus. There are barely any face masks available, a limited supply of disinfecting wipes, and you’d be lucky to find a bottle of hand sanitizer in most places.

Meanwhile, certain individuals and companies have cashed in on our fears by sharing advice and selling products that can allegedly (key word: allegedly) keep us safe from COVID-19.

Most, if not all, of these claims are fake. We don’t have a preventive vaccine yet, nor do we have any scientifically proven way to destroy COVID-19 once it’s in our bodies. The best way to stay safe right now is by social distancing and good old-fashioned hand-washing.

Here are the main scams and myths we’re seeing that you should watch out for:

Questionable DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipes

Due to the global hand sanitizer shortage, the World Health Organization recently published a recipe for a DIY hand sanitizer. While that recipe is completely safe and legitimate, others have since shared their own sanitizer recipes.

According to Ben Neuman, the head of the biology department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, an effective hand sanitizer needs to be 70% pure ethanol, or 140 proof, which is a much higher ethanol concentration than any sort of alcohol you’d find at a liquor store. (Don’t use your vodka, people!)....

There’s really no need to make your own sanitizer, said infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“I find it puzzling that people are trying to make their hand sanitizer when they have soap and water that works just fine,” Adalja said.

Herbal Remedies And Supplements Claiming To Fight COVID-19

Herbal remedies — including mixtures of honeysuckle, cinnamon twig, and peony root — have gained some traction thanks to false claims that they can treat flu-like symptoms or boost the immune system. Twitter is also all in on garlic right now, asserting that the herb has antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

“Garlic, my goodness,” Neuman said. “SARS-CoV-2 is not a vampire — garlic is tasty in spaghetti sauce, but it is not an antiviral...

Additionally, any “coronavirus-fighting” supplements you see marketed out there — like this chlorine dioxide solution, this high-dosage Vitamin C pack, or a bottle of colloidal silver — are a total scam. If we had a solution to cure COVID-19, you’d be aware.

Drinking Water To ‘Kill’ The Virus

There’s a rumor going around that gulping down water can push the novel coronavirus into your stomach, where stomach acids will kill it. Neuman said this advice is “mostly bonkers.”

Once the virus enters your body — through your mouth, nose or eyes — it will quickly infect your cells and, over time, spread to your lungs. For most people, the infection starts and ends around the lungs. In others, the infection could spread to the intestines and cause diarrhea. But just because the virus that causes COVID-19 reaches your intestines does not mean you are in the clear. You are still fighting an infection, regardless.

“The intestines actually have more of the virus receptor than the lungs, and would offer a potential route of access to the bloodstream and the important organs, so you wouldn’t want to deliberately introduce the virus into the digestive tract,” Neuman explained....

Latex Gloves For Virus Protection

People who can’t get a hold of a face mask (which, remember, isn’t foolproof) are now reaching for latex gloves, but there’s no proof they provide any protection. The novel coronavirus cannot be absorbed through the skin, according to Neuman. It can easily hang out on the gloves and reach all the areas where you can contract the illness (face, eyes, nose).

Latex gloves are also not sturdy and rip and tear easily. “I don’t suspect people wear them that well, and I suspect they get tears in them and people don’t even realize they got tears in them,” Adalja said, adding that the gloves also provide a false sense of security.

Here’s What To Do Instead:

First, try not to panic.

“The word ‘pandemic’ has the power to conjure up frightful images from movies and the distant past, but I think in reality the situation today is more controllable than at the peak of the outbreak in China just over a month ago,” Neuman said.

Around the world, we are now seeing a massive response to COVID-19, which is a very promising development. Follow the updates and pay attention to your local health authorities.

Instead of wasting your time and money on scammy products or bad advice, listen to the experts — wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face, practice social distancing, and disinfect surfaces.

Finally, if you do get sick, please make a telehealth appointment and isolate yourself until you recover (unless you’re experiencing severe symptoms like a high fever and shortness of breath; then seek in-person care immediately)....


Warning on COVID-19 scams
Dear radar subscriber,
Australians should be aware scammers are adapting existing technology to play on people’s fears around coronavirus and selling products claiming to prevent or cure the virus.
Since 1 January 2020, the ACCC’s Scamwatch has received 94 reports of scams about coronavirus, but warns figures are starting to climb.
Scamwatch has received multiple reports of phishing scams sent via email or text message that claim to be providing official information on coronavirus but are attempts to try and obtain personal data.
“Unfortunately, scammers are using the uncertainty around COVID-19, or coronavirus, to take advantage of people,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
Other scams include people receiving misinformation about cures for coronavirus and investment scams claiming coronavirus has created opportunities to make money.
“We’ve had a wide variety of scams reported to us, including fake online stores selling products claiming to be a vaccine or cure for coronavirus, and stores selling products such as face masks and not providing the goods.”
“There is no known vaccine or cure for coronavirus and a vaccine isn’t expected to be available for 18 months. Do not buy any products that claim to prevent or cure you of COVID-19. They simply don’t exist.”
“Scammers are impersonating official organisations such as the World Health Organization and the Department of Health or legitimate businesses such as travel agents and telecommunications companies,” Ms Rickard said.
“Understandably, people want information on the pandemic, but they should be wary of emails or text messages claiming to be from experts. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the Department of Health and the World Health Organization websites directly.”
If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
More information on coronavirus scams is available on the Scamwatch website, including how to make a report and where to get help.