State and federal officials are warning Washington residents to beware of phony COVID-19 treatments that can be harmful to their health as they see a rise in scams and false testing kits circulating through social media.
“There is a multitude of different types of fraudulent schemes, scams and efforts to prey on people who are vulnerable,” said William Hyslop, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington.
Nobody has been formally charged in Eastern Washington and Hyslop was unable to confirm if there are any ongoing investigations.
There have been cases across the country of people upping the price on face masks, selling false at-home test kits and offering bogus COVID-19 treatments or vaccines, he said.
The state received 33 complaints related to price gouging against companies based in Spokane, Walla Walla, Moses Lake and the Tri-Cities over a period of two months, said Brionna Aho, communications director for the attorney general’s office. There were 44 other COVID-19 related complaints in those Eastern Washington cities.
Earlier this month, the state issued a cease-and-desist letter to a Spokane resident accused of selling scarce supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at extremely high prices. Last week the office issued a cease-and-desist letter to a Seattle-based company, ordering it to stop selling what it claims is a COVID-19 vaccine developed without approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
North Coast Biologics owner Johnny Stine was advertising the $400 vaccine in a now deleted Facebook post, claiming that it made him “immune” to COVID-19.
He began adverting the vaccine around March 2, Aho said in an email. Stine told the office he will comply and remove any content advertising the vaccine from social media, she added.
Currently there’s no treatment for COVID-19 and there’s no available vaccine, said Danielle Koenig, health promotion supervisor for the Washington Department of Health.
Scientists around the world are working to develop both, she said, and all medical products require an FDA license to ensure they are safe and effective. People should speak with a health care provider before taking any medicine, she added.
Scammers also have pretended to be doctors demanding payment for treatment or claimed to represent the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get people’s personal information, Hyslop said.
“Everyone needs to remain very vigilant,” he said. “Everyone needs to be very cautious in opening emails, particularly in opening attachments to emails.”
People are scared and vulnerable during this pandemic, which might lead to them making a bad decision, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement released by his office. People should rely on trusted sources like their state or local health department.
“There are those trying to take advantage of people’s fear and vulnerability during this crisis,” he said. “I take this extremely seriously.”
People can file a complaint against a company or person advertising false COVID-19 vaccines, testing kits or other related scams to the attorney general’s website, www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint or contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or email@example.com.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.