CFA has begun compiling resources for consumers dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. You can find those resources, and future updates, on a special section of the CFA website. Below you’ll find information and infographics on avoiding scams, food safety, and to child-proofing your home.
CFA Offers Coronavirus Tips to Avoid Scams and Price-Gouging
With concerns about the Coronavirus growing, consumers are being warned to watch out for travel disruptions, price-gouging, and other scams that prey on fear. CFA Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Susan Grant, issued four tips to help consumers cope with problems they may encounter and avoid scams.
- Check travel cancelation and refund policies.If you have booked a flight, cruise, train trip, tour, hotel, or other travel arrangements and no longer wish to go because of concerns about the virus or because the event you were attending has been cancelled, you are not automatically entitled to refunds or credits. Companies set their own cancelation and refund policies, but many are now making exceptions in light of the situation. Contact the businesses to ask about your options. You may also have protections as a benefit from your credit card issuer. If you haven’t made travel plans yet, ask companies how they will handle cancelation requests before you book. Travel insurance is often offered through airlines and other travel sellers and is also available to purchase independently, but the situations these policies cover vary, so read the fine print and contact the insurer directly to make sure you understand the coverage.
- Report price-gouging.In some states, price hikes for certain necessities are illegal if the governor has declared an “emergency.” Even in the absence of an official emergency, your state or local consumer protection agency may want to hear about sudden increases in prices for items such as face masks, sanitizing products, and essential household goods. You should also notify companies such as eBay and Amazon if you notice that sellers using their platforms are offering such products at exorbitant prices.
- Investors beware.In times of wild market swings, consumers may be vulnerable to scare tactics designed for lure them into “safer” investments that in reality have hidden risks and costs. For example, salespeople might prey on people’s fears to sell them annuities by claiming that these products “do not lose value like stocks” or are “no cost” investments, neither of which is true. Contact your state securities regulator if you have questions about investment offers.
- Watch for other scams.Crooks take advantage of hot topics in the news, and the coronavirus is no exception. There are already reports about scammers sending emails pretending to be from well-known health organizations and including attachments or links which, if you click on them, can infect your computer and steal the personal information it contains. It would not be surprising to see other scams emerge, such as bogus claims for products to prevent or cure coronavirus. Be on guard for unexpected messages or offers that are suspicious and contact your state or local consumer agency for advice before you respond. You can also report scams to those agencies and to the Federal Trade Commission.
“As we predicted, there have been unsubstantiated claims made about products that would supposedly treat or prevent the COVID-19 virus,” said Grant. In a new blog, she warned about additional scams to watch out for, including emails that appear to be from the government offering money and asking for people’s banking and other personal details. “The federal government is not going to call or email you about the money that will be provided under the recently-passed bailout bill,” stated Grant.
CFA also created an infographic to help spread awareness of these tips. Feel free to share this infographic with your friends, family, and co-workers to ensure they are aware of these tips and don’t fall prey to scammers and price-gougers.
Food Tips for Consumers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Accessing food and trips to the grocery store have become a source of anxiety and stress for many consumers and families across the globe due to COVID-19 pandemic. “As protecting against COVID-19 has become part of our daily lives,” says CFA Director of Food Policy Thomas Gremillion, “it is critically important that consumers minimize the risks associated with shopping for, preparing, and eating food at home.”
In order to help consumers manage the stress and anxiety over obtaining safe, nutritious foods, Gremillion offers six tips:
- Keep social distancing front and center by minimizing trips to the grocery, keeping distances while shopping, and cleaning up afterwards.
Even if you live in an area where the number of confirmed cases is small, social distancing will reduce the opportunities for virus transmission protecting both your health, and your community’s. If you need to go to the store, try to consolidate your trips, use gloves if available, try to stay six feet apart from other shoppers, forego reusable bags, and wash your hands thoroughly after getting home and unpacking your food. Remember: flattening the curve is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. Whatever you can do to reduce your in-person interactions, while purchasing food or doing anything else, it can lower your risk of becoming infected, and infecting others.
- Know the food risks associated with the corona virus.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, foodborne exposure to the corona virus, “is not known to be a route of transmission.” In other words, studies have not shown that you can catch the virus from eating contaminated food. Some studies have documented evidence that the virus causes gastrointestinal symptoms, and thus may have the potential to spread through food, but food safety experts say the chances of that happening are not significant. The bigger risk is catching it from a person with whom you come into close contact, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- Wash your hands when you return from shopping.
According to FDA, the virus is thought to be spread mainly from person-to-person, but it may also be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. In the lab, researchers have detected “viable virus” on surfaces days after being contaminated. The virus is more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard. So washing hands after handling groceries or food packaging is important, according to Professor Ben Chapman, food safety specialist at the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University. Wiping down food packaging will not hurt, but according to Chapman, it’s probably not worth the effort given the dearth of evidence on that mode of transmission. “I would not suggest wiping down packaging,” he says.
- Consider an on-line grocery delivery service.
In many areas of the United States, services like Instacart, FreshDirect, Shipt, Peapod, and Amazon Fresh will bring groceries to your door for a small fee. Many of these services offer contact-free delivery—another method of limiting person-to-person interactions. These services are scaling up quickly but many consumers nevertheless have encountered long delays and limited selection. To help keep the pantry stocked, an economical option may be mail-ordering certain shelf-stable foods, such as rice, pasta, and beans, from bulk suppliers.
- If you have to go to the grocery store, keep in mind best social distancing practices while you shop.
Try to go when fewer shoppers are in the store. You may want to call the store ahead of time to determine if that is early morning, late at night, or some other time. Many stores offer “senior only” shopping times. Whenever you go, try to stay six feet away from other customers while you do your shopping. Wash your hands before you go to the store and immediately after you shop, and avoid touching your face. Be sure to disinfect your cart or basket using a disinfectant wipe (many stores provide them for free, but if not, bring your own), and use a wipe to open freezer doors.
- Practice the four core food safety practices.
It’s important to note that pathogens like Salmonella and E.coli have not gone away during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent years, foodborne illness has sent an estimated 128,000 people to the hospital, with 48 million sickened overall. Needless to say, now is a terrible time to need emergency medical treatment for a foodborne illness, or any other health problem.
So follow the four core practices:
CLEAN hands and food prep surfaces often.
SEPARATE to prevent cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods. COOK raw foods to a safe temperature, using a meat thermometer to verify. And, CHILL foods in the refrigerator promptly, so bacteria don’t have a chance to grow.
You can help spread the word by sharing this CFA infographic encapsulating these tips.
Protecting Children While ‘Sheltering in Place”
With more and more American cities and states under a “shelter-in-place” policy, millions of parents are now working from home while also caring for children whose schools have been closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In response, the nation’s leading child safety organizations and experts have identified specific hazards that parents can remedy in order to protect their children during these trying times of home isolation.
“While sequestered at home to protect your families from COVID-19, now is a good time to make sure that furniture is anchored to the wall, window coverings are cordless, and nursery products are registered online with the manufacturer so parents can be alerted to product recalls in the future,” said Rachel Weintraub, CFA Legislative Director and General Counsel.
CFA and coalition partners, Kids in Danger and U.S. PIRG, released a consumer guide focused on Protecting Children While Sheltering in Place to alert parents and caregivers to common childhood hazards as families are sheltering at home.
Some of the most common and unseen hazards:
- Ingestion hazards posed by high-powered magnets, button batteries, and laundry detergent pods;
- Poisoning from cleaning products accessible to children;
- Furniture and television tip-overs due to instability and lack of proper anchoring,
- Toys meant for older children that are now readily available to younger children that can pose choking hazards;
- Unsafe sleeping arrangements for infants;
- Window covering cords that pose strangulation hazards; and
- Recalled products still in use at homes.
Even just an hour or two spent remedying these hazards can go a long ways towards avoiding potential tragedy.
“During this incredibly difficult time for so many families, identifying common product safety hazards and taking action to minimize these risks could prevent product safety hazards in homes across the country.”