Coronavirus Scams: How To Protect Your Users

The outbreak of COVID-19 or Coronavirus has thrown people all over the world into fear and panic for their health and economic situation. Many have been flocking to stores to stock up on some essentials, emptying the shelves one by one. Scammers are taking advantage of the situation by maliciously playing on people’s fear. They’re targeting items that are hard to find in stores and make the internet – and especially online marketplaces – their hunting ground, to exploit desperate and vulnerable individuals and businesses. Price gouging – or charging unfairly high prices – fake medicine or non-existent loans are all ways scammers try to exploit marketplace users.

In this worldwide crisis, now is a great time for marketplaces to step up and show social responsibility by making sure that vulnerable individuals don’t fall victim to corona related scams and that malicious actors can’t gain on stockpiling and selling medical equipment sorely needed by nurses and doctors fighting to save lives.

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic we’ve worked closely with our clients to update moderation coverage to include Coronavirus related scams and have helped them put in place new rules and policies.

We know that all marketplaces currently will be struggling to get on top of the situation and to help we’ve decided to share some best practices to handle moderation during the epidemic.

Here are our recommendations on how to tackle the Covid-19 crisis to protect your users, your brand and retain the trust users have in your platform.

Refusal of coronavirus related items

Ever since the outbreak started, ill-intentioned individuals have made the price of some items spike to unusually high rates. Many brands have already taken the responsible step of refusing certain items they wouldn’t usually reject, and some have set bulk-buying restrictions (just like some supermarkets have done) on ethical and integrity grounds.

Google stopped allowing ads for masks, and many other businesses have restricted the sale or price of certain items. Amazon removed thousands of listings for hand sanitizer, wipes and face masks and has suspended hundreds of sellers for price gouging. Similarly, eBay banned all sales of hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and healthcare masks on its US platform and announced it would remove any listings mentioning Covid-19 or the Coronavirus except for books.

In our day to day work with moderation for clients all over the world we’ve seen a surge of Coronavirus related scams and we’ve developed guidelines based on the examples we’ve seen.

To protect your customers from being scammed or victim of price-gouging and to preserve your user trust, we recommend you refuse ads or set up measures against stockpiling for the following items.

  • Surgical masks and face masks (type ffp1, ffp2, ffp3, etc.) have been scarcely available and have seen their price tag spike dramatically. Overall, advertisements for all kinds of medical equipment associated with the Covid-19 should be refused.
  • Hands sanitizer and disposable gloves are also very prone to being sold by scammers at incredibly high prices. We suggest either banning the ads altogether or setting regular prices on these items.
  • Empty supermarket shelves of toilet paper have caused this usually cheap item to be sold online at extortionate prices, we suggest you monitor and ban these ads accordingly.
  • Any ads with the mention of Coronavirus or Covid-19 in the text should be manually checked to ensure that they aren’t created with malicious intends.
  • The sale of magic medicines pretending to miraculously cure the virus.
  • Depending on the country and its physical distancing measures, ads for home services such as hairdressers, nail technicians and beauticians should be refused.
  • In these uncertain times, scammers have been selling loans or cash online, preying on the most vulnerable. Make sure to look for these scams on your platform.
  • Similarly, scammers have been targeting students talking about interest rates being adjusted.

Optimize your filters

Ever since the crisis started, scammers have become more sophisticated as days go by, finding loopholes to circumvent security measures. By finding alternative ways to promote their scams, they use different wordings such as Sars-CoV-2 or describing masks by their reference numbers such as 149:2001, A1 2009 etc. Make sure your filters are optimized and your moderators continuously briefed and educated to catch all coronavirus-related ads.

Right now, we suggest that tweak your policies and moderation measures daily to stay ahead of the scammers. As the crisis evolves malicious actors will without doubt continue to find new ways to exploit the situation. As such it’s vital that you pay extra attention to your moderation efforts over the following weeks.

If you need help tackling coronavirus-related scams on your platform, get in touch with us.

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