Penn State Extension educator offers tips on how to avoid scams

April 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At a time when people should be supporting each other, there are those unscrupulous few who will seize the opportunity to take advantage of others.

“Coronavirus scams are popping up everywhere on the internet and through personal email,” said Denise Continenza, an educator with Penn State Extension’s food, family and health program team. She pointed to a few of the scams trending, such as free cellphone offers, relief from debt programs and products that can “cure” COVID-19.

“Stressful times play on our thoughts and emotions,” she added. “Protect yourself from scams by taking some time to talk it over with family and friends before making any decisions. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Continenza offered the following tips to help consumers protect themselves from fraud:

— Buy your virus-related products, such as masks, sanitizer and so forth, only from reputable dealers, preferably from larger or well-known retailers with whom you have done business in the past.

— Get your information from trusted sources that you have used before — such as Penn State Extension, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A suffix of .org or .edu is an indication that the information is based on science and research and is a reliable source of information.

— Avoid sharing and frightening others by reposting unattributed social media posts — circulate only accurate and current information from a reputable site like those previously mentioned.

— Beware of email offers for goods from companies and individuals that you don’t recognize.

— Be wary of investment opportunities, low-interest loans or other products offering financial relief.

— Never give out your personal credit card or account information to a caller if you did not initiate the call.

— If you are shopping online, be sure the website is secure before providing personal information. Look at the address bar or click on the web address. All legitimate websites will display a small lock icon, or the letters “https” at the beginning of the address. If you do not see either of those indicators, leave that site.

— Contribute to charity if your heart so desires, but choose known and responsible charities to support. Ask a friend or family members about any crowdfunding requests before sending contributions. Better yet, contribute to your favorite local charities or causes that need support during this difficult time.

— Currently, there are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19.

For those who believe they have been a victim of a scam, Continenza advised contacting local law enforcement officials. To file a complaint about a company or a transaction, call the Pennsylvania Department of Bank Services at 800-PA-BANKS (800-722-2657).

For more resources on family budgeting and financial topics, visit the Penn State Extension website at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 24, 2020